Kátya Kabanová @ Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

This new staging of Leoš Janáček’s opera Kátya Kabanová could be Scottish Opera's stand-out piece of the year

Review by Dominic Corr | 26 Mar 2019

Scottish Opera continues its current season with their new co-production with Theater Magdeburg. Stephen Lawless’ staging of the statuesque beauty, both in libretto and design, of Leoš Janáček’s Kátya Kabanová. Adapted from Alexander Ostrovsky's play, The Storm it's a bittersweet tale of destiny, illicit love and isolation.

Accelerated a century or so from its original setting of the 1860s, Kátya (Laura Wilde) finds herself with deep desires for a young man called Boris (Ric Furman), who's a far cry from her close-fisted impish runt of a husband, Tikhon (Samuel Sakker). Feeling as though something isn’t right with her life, Kátya begins to wonder if anything is truly a sin if destiny gives you no other choice?

For those still uneasy with the accessibility of opera, Janacek’s libretto is perhaps one of the more welcoming. Its ‘speech melody’ not only allows for an easier grasp of the language, it greatly enriches the narrative. Its flow is graceful and the structure is far from simplistic, though some performers, such as Furman, are lost to waves of the orchestra. Striking out above the pit though is Patricia Bardon’s Kabanicha – Kátya’s mother in law, bordering on pantomime villain but owning every exceptional moment.

Layers are not simply found within Leslie Travers' sublime set design but throughout the production. The most noticeable layering is the unusual break from operatic aria and into traditional folk music,. Here Trystan Llŷr Griffiths’ turn with a bass guitar and cheerful beat forge a connection with the audience, drawing them further in and offering levity before the heavier tonal change.

Pacing takes an uglier turn towards the climax of the production. The third Act sits at thirty minutes, and encompasses confession and infidelity, all whilst tying loose ends in this prophetic closing to mirror the opening. Despite the short run time, the act is bogged down with pathos carried over from the first two.

Kátya Kabanová is, in its construction, libretto and vocals, rather beautiful. It's a beauty found beneath the noir tones of the production, under the cruel and vindictive characters and the misery of industrial steel and stone, guarding against nature's eventual claiming of the grave.

Kátya Kabanová @ Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, run ended