Katya Kabanova - English National Opera, 17 March 2010
ENO have turned into the Gap of the opera world - nobody with half a brain bothers to pay full price any more, because we know everything will be reduced in the sales. And with the annual scenery budget blown on the ill-judged spectacular of Turandot too, there can't have been much cash around for David Alden to play with. Is that why the set for his new Káťa Kabanová was limited to a single plywood panel and the costumes were borrowed from Dallas Opera?
Janáček's dense orchestration seems designed for bigger voices than it tends to be granted, this cast being no exception. All sang consistently well though most were a size too small. Alden gives them a sporting chance by parking them on the lip of the stage, singing straight out to the audience. The others line up yards away like points on a graph, drawing together only to accentuate the opera's few moments of physical intimacy.
Mark Wigglesworth helped the singers too, by paying scrupulous attention to the balance between stage and pit, reining in the orchestra so every word could be heard. But the heavy price was a cool, restrained reading which accompanied voices accurately without ever imposing itself emotionally. I longed for him to let rip, but only in the Douglas Sirk moments of the intermezzi was there any hint of a beating heart.
Patricia Racette's overly-assured Katya, more of a bored housewife than a desperate one, didn't raise the temperature either, despite her beautiful voice. Without a hint of vulnerability or neurosis to precede it, her final disintegration in the face of Boris's rejection simply didn't ring true. It didn't help that Boris, in the person of Stuart Skelton, was presented as essentially good-hearted, merely weak, a sort of second Tikhon without the excuse of a bullying mother. Alfie Boe and Anna Grevelius as Vanya and Varvara emerged as the most sympathetic characters, which cannot be quite right.
An entertaining evening, but no hankies required.
Constructivist Batman pays a call:
Reviews of the first night on 15 March: