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Janacek: Katia Kabanova / Mattila, Bryjak, Dvorsky [DVD]

Janacek / Matilla / Cttr / Ottr / Belohlavek
Release Date: 02/08/2011 
Label:  Fra Musica   Catalog #: 3  
Composer:  Leos Janácek
Performer:  Dalia SchaechterKarita MattilaMiroslav DvorskyOleg Bryjak
Conductor:  Jiří Bělohlávek
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Madrid Teatro Real Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

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JANÁ?EK Kát’a Kabanová Ji?í B?lohlávek, cond; Karita Mattila ( Kát’a ); Dalia Schaechter ( Kabanicha ); Natascha Petrinsky ( Varvara ); Miroslav Read more Dvorský ( Boris ); Guy de Mey ( Tichon ); Gordon Gietz ( Kudrjá? ); Oleg Bryak ( Dikoj ); Teatro Real Ch & O FRA 033 (DVD: 108:00) Live: Madrid 12/2008

Kát’a Kabanová is more than just a personal tragedy; it is also a study of changing social mores: The conservatism of the past (Kabanicha and Dikoj) is contrasted to the devil-may-care sensuality of youth (Varvara and Kudrjá?), with the sensitive, thoughtful Katia caught in between. In Jen?fa (more properly Her Foster Daughter ), the not-quite-mother figure is as important as the title character; here she is only slightly less so—Kabanicha’s influence on Katia is balanced by that of Varvara, arguing opposite views. Dikoj having sex with Kabanicha is not in the score, nor is there any suggestion of it in Erik Chisholm’s detailed analysis in The Operas of Leo? Janá?ek . But the display of their intercourse is so useful—to show that Kabanicha’s cold self-righteousness is only a cynical façade—that most productions, including this one, adopt it. On the other hand, it makes her a more sympathetic figure: the not-so-old widow whose own frustrations and consequent guilt have led her to condemn the morals of others. There is a delicate, never-resolved balance as to how much Katia’s own character and upbringing, tinged with religious superstitions, contribute to her current problems and eventual suicide, and how much stems from the actions of her weak husband, his hateful domineering mother, and her unreliable lover. What all this amateur psychology is trying to say is that there are many subtleties involved in this tragic tale. One of this production’s many virtues is that it keeps all the balls in the air, whereas others present a more black-and-white view of an evil Kabanicha and a saintly Katia.

The stage of Teatro Real is covered by about four inches of water; the action takes place on wooden boards that are moved about (by a crew of sylphs dressed as Katias) to become either pathways or the floor of an interior room. There is considerable rationale to this: The opera’s primary symbol is the Volga, opening with Kudrjá? singing a paean to its timeless beauty and closing with Katia’s fall into its depths. There is no village square for gossiping, no church to return from, no garden for lover’s trysts, no gate for Varvara’s stolen key. But Kat’a is primarily concerned with the minds and hearts of its characters, so the dearth of scenery may be viewed as a blessing, an avoidance of distraction. The exchange of the key between Varvara and Katia, and the latter’s nervous handling of it (beautifully done by Mattila), provide all the realism we need. This setting is preferable to Glyndebourne’s stark forms in bright primary colors, in a 1988 Kultur DVD led by Andrew Davis. Robert Carsen’s direction of this Flemish Opera production (exported to Madrid) is otherwise quite conventional.

In a 24-minute extra, Carsen and Ji?i B?lohlávek discuss the opera and their production. Surprisingly, they each adhere to the black-and-white analysis, although Carsen later relents and allows both mitigating factors for Kabanicha and other reasons for Katia’s troubles. The conductor stresses the straight-line progress of the opera, which never wanders and—almost uniquely—contains no fill. This made them decide on a single set, so that there would be no stoppages (we see the sylphs rearrange the boards during brief orchestral interludes). Then came the thought of water, which, Carsen explains convincingly, contributes beauty, fear, and danger. He also speaks of the “light box” with mirror effects from the water.

The Madrid orchestra is no match for the precision of Davis’s London Philharmonic, but B?lohlávek has a finer feel for the score, and lush recorded sound produces beautiful results. Some of Janá?ek’s edge has been softened, but the music’s dramatic focus never wavers. The cast is above average, with each singer rising to his or her moments in the spotlight. Miroslav Dvorský’s Boris starts slowly but is superb in the love scene. Dalia Schaecter’s Kabanicha is a bit underdone, vocally and dramatically; it’s not clear whether this is a directorial choice. The show is carried by Katia, as it must be; Karita Mattila sings beautifully, and her acting is if anything even stronger. She creates a character we love and then suffer with, and her final aria at the river is magnificent. By comparison, a young Nancy Gustafson for Davis is very solid but cannot rise to such heights. Angela Denoke, on a 1998 Kultur video, also sings superbly, but I have heard only the CDs ( Fanfare 23:6) and not seen the video; that performance is let down by a weak Kabanicha.

This all-region, 16:9 anamorphic video is superbly well lit, so that even the night scenes are clear; there is also a Blu-ray version, but I have not seen it. The audio comes in Dolby digital stereo and in DTS 5.1. There are subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian. All in all, this is my first recommendation for a video Kát’a Kabanová.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Kát'a Kabanová by Leos Janácek
Performer:  Dalia Schaechter (Alto), Karita Mattila (Soprano), Miroslav Dvorsky (Tenor),
Oleg Bryjak (Bass)
Conductor:  Jiří Bělohlávek
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Madrid Teatro Real Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1919-1921; Brno, Czech Republic 

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