When the touring production of ‘Katya Kabanova’ appeared on Gamle Scene on November 10 it was a night of firsts. It was the first opportunity for a Copenhagen audience to ever see a Leos Janacek opera, and it was the directorial debut of Anilese Miskimmon as the new head of Den Jyske Opera. Fortunately, the night ended more happily for Miskimmon than for the opera’s heroine.
Janacek is oft referred to as the Czech Puccini, and this, his sixth opera that debuted in Brno in 1921, is considered his first mature work. Based on ‘The Storm’, a play by Alexander Ostrovsky, it tells the tragic story of Katya who, trapped in an unhappy marriage made worse by an overbearing mother-in-law, falls for the charms of Boris. When a dramatic storm breaks, Katya becomes increasingly agitated, first confessing her sins in front of everyone and finally flinging herself off a bridge into the Volga. The opera was performed in Czech with Danish supertitles, and although we got the gist, the overly succinct subtitling meant that some of the opera’s complexities were lost.
The production was conducted by Jaroslav Kyzlink, the conductor of the National Theatre in Prague and accompanied by the Danish National Opera Chorus and the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra. Katya was sung by Czech soprano Pavla Vykopalova who together with Slovakian tenor Peter Berger carried the show. The other standout performances were from the Copenhagen-based soprano Aileen Itani, who played Varara, and Canada’s David Curry, who played the part of Varara’s lover. The duet these two sang at the end of Act 2 was particularly memorable. The dramatic crescendo played wonderfully by the orchestra during the storm in Act Three also made my skin tingle.
My only gripe was with the set and costume design. True, there are constraints with a production that for two months is flitting all over Denmark, but a less literal representation of the setting with perhaps some modern references could have energised the performance. A first Janacek opera for me, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Catch it if you can before the final curtain call in Odense on November 30.