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Mixed bag Katia Kabanova

New York
The Metropolitan Opera
01/02/1999 -  and 5, 9, 13, 16, 21 1999
Leos Janacek : Katia Kabanova
Paul Charles Clarke (Vana Kudrjas), Catherine Cook (Glasa), Sergei Koptchak (Dikoj), Peter Straka (Boris Grigorjevic), Diane Elias (Feklusa), Judith Forst (Kabanicha), Mark Baker (Tichon), Catherine Malfitano (Kat'a Kabanová), Katarina Karneus (Varvara), Mariusz Kwiecien (Kuligin), Meredith Derr (A passerby), Judith Goldberg-Apy (Townswoman)
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Charles Mackerras (conductor)
Jonathan Miller (director)

The Metropolitan Opera revival of Janacek's Kat'a Kabanová which opened Saturday is a fairly ambivalent, though ultimately rewarding, experience. Jonathan Miller's production is strikingly Lenten. The rigid structure of the Kabanová dwelling looming over miniature symbolic town structures communicates the sparse yet claustrophobic feeling of an Edward Hopper painting. This desolately suffocating atmosphere reflects the desication of Kat'a's interior life in the prison of the Kabanová household as perfectly as it enhances the themes of the drama as a whole. The action, however, lacks the relentless propulsion toward the inevitable conclusion that should underlie Kat'a’s destruction at the hands of the self-made fate in which she believes so completely.

Czech repertoire expert Charles Mackerras leads the insightful interpretation of Janacek's glorious score, but he could be more attuned to the needs of the singers who are occasionally overcome by the volume of the orchestra.

Catherine Malfitano is captivating as the doomed Kat'a, but fails to embody the character as fully as one would expect this extraordinary singing actress to do. Kat'a's religious frenzy and desperation seem more intellectual than ecstatic, though Ms. Malfitano is absolutely splendid in the final act, in which she offers a bravura display of her facility at shooting emotional fireworks.

Peter Straka as Boris, Kat'a's lover and ruination, displays a secure voice with a pleasant tone, but tends to emote every line as an urgent clarion call— which ultimately heralds nothing.

Judith Forst, replacing an indisposed Eva Randová as Kabanicha in the opening, performed adequately. This harpy stepmother, who makes Jenufa’s Kostelnika look like a cupcake, is a relatively small, and superficially one-dimensional role. It is difficult to provide her with any depth of character, and, while Ms. Forst communicated the requisite loathsomeness, she was unable to elevate Kabanicha above the level of cartoon villain.

Swedish mezzo Katarina Karnéus in her Met debut as Varvara, foster daughter of Kabanicha and confidante of Kat'a, walks off with every scene in which she appears. Her well-meaning but disasterous meddling is delivered with a lighthearted charm that insinuates catastrophe through its very guilelessness. Her plummy, supple voice is intoxicating, and is well suited to even more challenging roles.

Though it is not definative by any means, and is not entirely fullfiling in several aspects, this production of Kat'a Kabanova is not without merit. Perhaps the most important thing it accomplishes is to hint at what the Metropolitan Opera could achive by more routinely applying its incomparable resources to the interpretation of challenging modern repertoire.

MK Blackwood



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