Friday, January 13, 2023

Barbican Hall, London

Guest Reviewer, Peter Reed

This concert presentation (the second of two) of Kát’a Kabanová (Katya Kabanova) from the LSO and Sir Simon Rattle, with Amanda Majeski in the title role, was one of the great Janáček performances, made all-the-more intense for being played without an interval (I think a first for me), about an hour and three-quarters of undiluted tragedy, cruelty and, unforgettably, radiance. It was an extraordinary experience, the terseness of the story – of unhappy Katya, adrift and loveless with a weak husband and a vile mother-in-law, who sleepwalks into adultery with chancer Boris – given the illusion of spaciousness by Janáček’s inimitable, devastatingly accurate evocation of the characters’ highs and lows. This was edge-of-the-seat stuff, sung and played with a level of inspiration that was gripping.

Majeski, who was Katya in Richard Jones’s 2019 Royal Opera staging, was unsparing, a big soul whose visionary innocence and goodness is fatally undone by timidity and guilt, and whose suicide in the Volga is inevitable. Her lower voice glowed with melancholy and warmth, and there was not one element of her characterisation that misfired, especially her pathetic reliance on her vacillating husband Tichon, fielded with dismaying realism by Andrew Staples (also in the Royal Opera production).

As lover-boy Boris, Simon O’Neill’s tenor soared seductively, and his wily portrayal was enough to flag-up Katya’s craving for love. Magdalena Kožená’s Varvara, the young foster girl who literally has the key to Katya’s doom, was too over-lit for the role’s wily, humorous subterfuge, but Varvara’s simple affair with Ladislav Elgr’s incandescent Kudrjas created the sort of uncomplicated love Katya deserves but will never have, brilliantly laid out in the double love-duet at the end of Act II. Pavlo Hunka (replacing Sir John Tomlinson) didn’t quite have the vocal bluster for the drunken Dikoj, but he was still on form as the awful uncle who keeps Boris on a short, cash-dependent leash. Last but far from least was Katarina Dalayman as the Kabanicha in a performance that went easy on the melodrama but was in every other respect all ice and tyrannical control, formidably expressed by the mid-European wailing spread in her middle voice.

Rattle and the LSO unleashed Janáček’s raw, beautifully scored grit, delivering those pearls of concentrated, searing lyricism that instantly hit the opera’s emotional bull’s-eye, and Rattle, who was in his element, constantly made you aware how close Janáček’s instrumentation gets to language. What a great composer he is, and magnificently served here. Expect a recording on LSO Live.

Janáček

Katya Kabanova – opera in three Acts to a libretto by the composer after Alexander Ostrovsky’s play The Storm [sung in Czech, with English surtitles]

Katya – Amanda Majeski
Boris – Simon O’Neill
Kabanicha – Katarina Dalayman
Kudrjas – Ladislav Elgr

Varvara – Magdalena Kožená

Tichon – Andrew Staples
Dikój – Pavlo Hunka
Kuligin – Lukáš Zeman

Glasha / Feklusha – Claire Barnett-Jones

London Symphony Chorus

Curtis Rogers’s review for Classical Source