Opera Reviews
14 April 2024
Untitled Document

A timely revival that doesn't quite hit the mark

by Moore Parker
Janáček: Katya Kabanova
Vienna State Opera
24 April 2017

André Engels wonderfully compact and depictive production set in 20th century New York, with its slick and atmospheric sets by Nicky Rieti, is in a deserved revival at the State Opera with a line-up of newcomers in the leads.

This time round, the characters appeared more isolated - in itself a dramatically credible option - but less so of course, when they risk becoming monotone or stilted. 

As Katya, Angela Denoke brings her familiar artistic sensitivity, youthful physical presence, and focused intensity to culminate in a convincing portrayal of this tragic figure, regrettably despite rather than due to her vocal showing. The soprano’s tone may still transport moments of despair and distress convincingly - those of passion or romantic desire, alas not - thus thwarting a broader palette of expression that predecessors can claim in the role, with the tryst scene (here set behind a water cistern on a typical NY rooftop) quite failing to convince. On this occasion even the more accessible passages in the role brought daunting moments, and any extremes suffered severe duress. However, Denoke remains a Vienna favourite, and the curtain calls proved that this audience is anything but fickle. 

Her Boris on this occasion, Misha Didyk, delivered a rather stocky reading, lacking in finesse and also suffering moments of vocal strain.

It would be hard to find a greater contrast than the production’s original Kabanicha, Deborah Polaski (a towering, ex-Brünnhilde) and Jane Henschel. However, the latter convinced as a hard-nosed, resolute, matriarch - while nevertheless somewhat failing in the sexually-coloured domina scene with Dikoj (in which both characters enjoy a round of sado-masochist whipping). While Kabanicha’s upper-lying passages work well for the American singer, lower-lying phrases frequently failed to cross the footlights.

As Dikoj Dan Paul Dumitrescu seemed to direct his entire performance to the baton, failing to convincingly interact with the other protagonists and risking travesty as a result - particularly when managing to propel one of the life-sized street lamps into oscillation. 

On a more positive note, Thomas Ebenstein delivered a bright-toned, boy-about-town Kudrjáš, while Margaret Plummer can claim the evening’s laurels for the most rounded interpretation. Her Varvara managed to ooze seductive charm while resisting any hint of vulgarity - and further, testified that a bel-canto basis is as much an asset for this repertoire as in any Italian Fach.

Newcomer Leonardo Navarro (Tichon), Caroline Wenborne (Fekluša), and Ilseyar Khayrullova (Glaša) all nicely complimented the cast. 

Tomáš Netopil conducted a responsive ensemble in the pit, well-pacing the developing drama while drawing a kaleidoscope of nuance from Janáček’s fascinating score. 

Text © Moore Parker
Photo © Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn
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