Kát’a Kabanová

From the July issue of Opera

Gothenburg Opera’s new Kát’a Kabanová is only the second production of the work to make it to the Swedish stage. Indeed, it is only the 14th production of any Janáček opera to have been seen in the country. This is surprising, given the somewhat Strindberg-esque hue of Janáček’s imaginative landscape, and that the macabre realism of Kát’a and Jenůfa in particular would seem suited to Swedish sensibilities. But a recent surge of interest has a long way to go before it resembles Britain’s longstanding love affair with the composer.

It is a British director who lies behind the current production. John Dew, returning to Gothenburg after his success with Pelléas in 2004, has worked with designer Heinz Balthes to produce a strikingly simple, period production (1850s). The action is concentrated almost exclusively on a raised horizontal section at the front of the stage which forms the basis, in the riverside scenes, of a cast-iron suspension bridge. The vertical cables, reaching far up above the proscenium, remain even when the bridge sides have fallen away for the interior and garden-gate scenes, giving a sense of a tightly controlled horizontal space across which Susanne Resmark’s pitiless Kabanicha, never failing to muscle her way to the centre, radiates malignance.

The cables also amplify the theme of electricity – the mysterious power which provides a powerful symbolic undercurrent in Ostrovsky’s tragedy – and are explicitly identified as lightning conductors during Kudrjáš’s brief interview with his sceptical employer at the beginning of Act III. The most important electricity in Kát’a, of course, comes from the music, and here there were moments when Janáček’s restless score clearly stretched the Gothenburg forces. Conductor Shao-Chia Lü’s emphasis on the immediacy of the music sometimes came at the expense of medium term coherence, in particular in the overture and first scene, but the espressivo moments emerged with vigour and clarity, and the third act was marvellously convincing.

This trajectory was also shared by Ingela Brimberg’s Kát’a. A graduate of Gothenburg’s opera academy, who made a strong impression there as Tosca in 2007 and more recently as Jenůfa in the northern city of Umeå, Brimberg made a somewhat shaky start, failing to convince in the family drawing room opposite Katija Dragojevic’s spirited and clear-toned Varvara. But her star rose for the great Act III soliloquy – where Brimberg’s voice flitted and soared like the birds Kát’a imagines visiting her grave – and in the ensuing ill-fated duet with Boris. Gothenburg regular Tomas Lind gave a sympathetic but not always compelling performance in the latter role, while Nikola Matišić excelled in the role of his younger but vastly more experienced friend Kudrjáš. Ruling and binding them all, Susanne Resmark was appropriately terrifying, dominating the texture with majesterial economy of effort.

Popular Posts