Director: Katie Mitchell
Revival Director: Elaine
Designer: Vicki Mortimer
Lighting Designer: Paule
Photographs: Nicholas Lieber
Glasha: Sarah Pope
Dikoy: Alan Fairs
Boris: Tom Randle
Feklusha: Joanne Thomas
Kabanicha: Suzanne Murphy
Tichon Kabanov: Andrew Forbes-Lane
Varvara: Arlene Rolph
Katerina (Katya) Kabanova:
Kuligin: Alastair Moore
Woman in church: Jessica
Boatman: Simon Curtis
WNO Orchestra and Chorus
Chorus Master: Donald Nally
Barker as Katya
Maybe it was the heat – it was
very warm in Cardiff on Saturday evening – or perhaps it was first night
jitters or under-rehearsal, but while nothing went actually wrong in
this revival of WNO’s Katya, the performance was short on excitement
during Acts I and II. It was all thoroughly competent of course, WNO
is never less than that, but ‘lacking rapture’ was a phrase that sprang
to mind by the interval.
Janacek wrote that Katya, his
sixth opera, was ‘one of my most tender works,’ and his score contrasts
extreme beauty with fateful oppression to wonderful emotional effect.
Every bit of this came fully to life after the interval when Steven
Sloane’s conducting of Act III restored all the previously missing passion.
Singers and orchestra responded to Sloane’s direction wholeheartedly
and yet more world class opera was the result.
Murphy (Kabanicha) and Cheryl Barker
The sets are austere in this production. Act I
and the end of Act III are set in the waiting room/ cafeteria of a boat
station on the banks of the Volga. Painted in institutional faded green,
this is the sort of place where they sell the Russian equivalent of
old-style British Railways’ individual fruit pies. No-one enjoys them
much; they’re just something to eat while waiting for your transport
For the other scenes, simple full-width
dropped sets represent the interior of the Kabanov’s home, the garden
in Act II and the ruined church for the first scene of Act III. Colours
are uniformly drab and the period costumes are muted. It’s a cheerless
setting for a cheerless tale.
The direction points up cheerlessness
too, with one small and interesting exception. Abusive power, oppression
and the guilt that characterise this libretto are emphasised constantly.
This Kabanicha presses every one of Tichon’s emotional buttons to make
him squirm and even Katya’s happy memories of her life before marriage
bring her little comfort. The two sets of lovers, Varvara and Kudryash,
Boris and Katya, are unable to take delight from their relationships
and Katya’s guilt particularly, stifles rejoicing.
The exception to the overall gloom
is the scene between Dikoy and the Kabanicha, where the mutual comfort
they bring each other is almost touching. The couple light cigarettes
together and then waft the smoke through the room’s open window. For
a brief moment they cease to be malicious tyrants and seem more like
naughty children happy in their latest prank; a reminder perhaps that
the need for human contact always lies somewhere behind the harshest
As well as a new conductor, this
revival has an almost complete set of new principals. Suzanne Murphy
(the Kabanicha,) Alan Fairs (Dikoy) and Sarah Pope (Glasha) are the
old-hands from the original production and were all in good voice throughout
this performance. Their characterisations were strong too, and clearly
came from sound experience.
The revival has three strong tenors,
at least potentially. David Curry (Kudryash) and Andrew Forbes-Lane
(Tichon) were both in excellent voice with fine strain-free notes, ringing
tenor sound and excellent diction. Tom Randle (Boris) on the other hand,
was more of a puzzle. In Act I, scene 1 his voice did not project well,
had a slight baritonal quality in the chest register and at times was
quite difficult to hear clearly. Later, the voice improved a good deal
and it was obvious during the garden scene that this is an excellent
instrument especially in its upper ranges. Having heard Tom Randle live
several times in the last year of so (most recently as Gerontius
in Birmingham where I commented on his particularly muscular tone) rightly
or wrongly I am left with the impression that he is sometimes inclined
to overdo ‘manliness.’ When he sings simply, the voice reveals itself
for what it really is: something rather special.
Arlene Rolph’s portrayal of Varvara
was nicely gauged to reveal the defiant quality needed in the role.
Her attractive singing, delicate and forceful by turns also made a fine
foil for Cheryl Barker’s Katya which was itself of very high quality
especially in Act III. Hers is yet another voice to be added to the
ever-growing list of fine principal sopranos appearing at WNO.