Classical Music

Katya Kabanova review – Rattle and Majeski capture the rapture and chaos of Janáček’s turbulent love story | Opera

The London Symphony Orchestra’s concert performances of Janáček’s Katya Kabanova with Simon Rattle form an effective sequel to their 2019 production, directed by Peter Sellars, of the composer’s very different Cunning Little Vixen. Admirable though that was, Katya strikes me as being in every way the greater achievement, probingly conducted by Rattle – he is at his best here – and for the most part wonderfully well sung, with a truly great performance from Amanda Majeski in the title role.

Orchestrally, this was exceptional. Rattle’s interpretation blends tension with lyricism. Katya’s reminiscences, tinged with mysticism, of childhood experiences in church sounded ravishing, and a deep sensuality burned in the garden scene, in which she yields to her feelings for Boris. But the contrasting terror and emotional violence were shockingly realised as well, from the lacerating phrases and hammering monotones with which Janáček closes Act 1, to the storm, both physical and psychological, that finally pushes Katya over the edge. Nowhere was the combination of beauty and tragic intensity more overwhelming than in the brief moment of rapture in the final scene that brings the lovers back together only to confront the realisation that they must part.

Majeski, meanwhile, returned to the role she very much made her own in Richard Jones’s Covent Garden production, also in 2019. She’s an artist of the highest calibre, with a glorious voice, ample, opulent in tone and wonderfully expressive over a wide dynamic range. But without Jones’s at times distracting interventions, her portrayal of Katya’s emotional collapse became even more harrowing in its veracity and immediacy. This was an outstanding achievement, though there were fine performances elsewhere, too. Simon O’Neill was the ardent, if metallic sounding Boris. Katarina Dalayman, all steely high notes and vicious declamation, made a brutal Kabanicha, pouring scorn on Andrew Staples’ Tichon and treating Pavlo Hunka’s belligerent yet servile Dikoj with thinly disguised contempt. Magdalena Kožená, in lovely voice, was luxury casting as Varvara, with Ladislav Elgr as her appealing Kudrjas – warm sounding, handsome and very much the voice of reason in the chaos around him. A tremendous evening, every second of it.

Katya Kabanova is at the Barbican, London, until 13 January.

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