Opera Warhorses

An appreciation and analysis of the 'Standard Repertory' of opera

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Review: Corinne Winters’ Searing Performance as Seattle Opera’s Katya Kabanova, February 26, 2017

February 28th, 2017

The Seattle Opera’s new production of Janacek’s “Katya Kabanova” premiered the evening of February 25 [Review: Seattle Opera Psychodrama – Melody Moore’s Magnificent Katya Kabanova, February 25, 2017]. Janacek’s lush melodic score was performed in a theatrically attractive production.

The production’s second performance was presented the next afternoon with two major cast changes. (My previous review covers the performances of the artists who are scheduled to appear in all seven performances.)

Corinne Winters’ Katya and Scott Quinn’s Boris

Maryland soprano Corinne Winters was vocally secure and dramatically intense, in the challenging role of Katya. Winters conveyed the soul-searing turmoil of a woman with deeply-held religious belief that extra-marital sexual thoughts are mortal sins, yet who accedes to a liaison with Boris while her husband is away.

Katya is the third principal role I have seen Winters assay – following that of Ching-Ling (sung in Mandarin!) [see Review: Santa Fe Opera Shows its Mettle in Mounting Huang Ruo’s “Doctor Sun Yat-Sen” – July 30, 2014] and Melisande [see Review: Imbrailo, Winters and Ketelsen Effective in Dmitri Tcherniakov’s Psychoanalytic Take on “Pelléas et Mélisande” – Zurich Opera, May 8, 2016].

[Below: Katya Kabanova (Corinne Winters) returns from church; edited image, based on a Philip Newton photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

Texas tenor Scott Quinn was vocally and dramatically effective as Boris, Katya’s seducer.

I have praised Quinn in the role of Steva [Review: A Beautifully Performed “Jenufa” by Byström, Mattila and Burden, San Francisco Opera, June 19, 2016], another Janacek character who likes sex, but not commitment. His comic turn as the barber Pirelli [Review: “Sweeney Todd” at Houston Grand Opera: Nathan Gunn, Director Lee Blakeley Make a Compelling Case for Sondheim as Opera, April 24, 2015] is an example of the diversity of his roles.

[Below: Boris (Scott Quinn, right), although concerned about the fate of Katya (Corinne Winters, left), intends to leave the community alone for better opportunities elsewhere; edited image, based on a Philip Newton photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

Kabanov Sociology

Like Janacek’s greatest masterpiece, “Jenufa”, “Katya Kabanova” take place in a rural Slavic village. If the powerful themes of “Jenufa” transcend village life, the emotional oppressiveness of the Kabanov household can seem remote from the world inhabited by 21st century urban operagoers.

The action of the opera revolves around four members of the relatively well-to-do Kabonov household in a rural Russian village – a widow, Kabinicha, her son Tichon and daughter Varvara and her son’s wife Katya.  The opera gives us insight into how a matriarchal family is organized – albeit one in which bad feelings abound.

[Below: Dikoj (Stefan Szkafaworsky, left) seeks comfort from Kabinicha (Victoria Livengood, right); edited image, based on a Philip Newton photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

Kabinicha’s role within the Kabanov household is one that has existed throughout history and continues today as a dominant reality in some societies. She is the family’s matriarch, controlling the family’s finances and is the arbiter of the behavior expected of all family members. She has achieved that position through time, assuming it at the death of the matriarch to whom she deferred as a young wife.

Kabinicha and Katya do not like each other, but, had Katya lived, at Kabinicha’s passing, Katya would have become the matriarch. She may have been kinder towards a future daughter-in-law, but Katya would have firm ideas on what her daughter-in-law’s behavior should be.

[Below: Varvara (Maya Lahyani, above) expresses her love for Kudrjas (Joshua Kohl, lying on bench); edited image, based on a Philip Newton photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

Kabinicha and Katya are the traditionalists. Katya’s contemporaries – her sister-in-law Varvara,  Kudryas and Boris are of a new generation have no interest in preserving the “old ways”.

Patrick Nolan’s production and staging

In creating a new production for the Seattle Opera’s first-ever performances of “Katya Kabanova”, Patrick Nolan’s most striking innovation was moving the setting from rural Russia to a small American town in the early 1950s.

[Below: Australian director Patrick Nolan; edited image of a publicity photograph.]

Although an American flag and white picket fence crossing the stage are early images, Nolan is not commenting on mid-20th century American society, but rather choosing a point in time and place when some people held rigidly to “traditional values” while other people rejected any hold such values might have on them.

[Below: Victoria Livengood is Kabinicha standing behind a picket fence;  edited image, based on a Jacob Lucas photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

Nolan, in collaboration with his Australian colleagues Genevieve Blanchett (production and digital design) and Mark Howett (lighting and digital design), emphasized fast moving scene changes that allowed movement between interior and exterior spaces.

Video projections were used to delineate mountain crags and projections and stage fog created the flowing river in which Katya ended her life.

[Below: Tikhon (Nicky Pence, center, kneeling) grieves over the drowned Katya (Corinne Winters, on ground) as a disapproving Kabinicha (Victoria Livengood, center, standing) looks on; edited image, based on a Philip Newton photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

Aiding the scene changes was the imaginative use of props furnishings and partial walls that gave an appearance of solidity. Especially effective was the Kabanov’s picture window with its view of a rapidly moving river.

[Below: Katya (Corinne Winters, center) views the adjacent river through a picture window while Varvara (Maya Lahyani, right) lies on a sofa; edited image, based on a Philip Newton photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

Recommendation

I enthusiastically recommend the Seattle Opera Patrick Nolan production of Janacek’s “Katya Kabanova”, and each of the cast combinations offered by the Seattle Opera.

 

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