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Katya Kabanova. Passion, Tragedy & Madness
Richard Trinder, Editor
Katie Bray as Varvara and Stephanie Corley as Katy. All photos by Jane Hobson
Opera North's season of three works from just before or just after the First World War continues with Leoš Janáček's Katya Kabanova.

Written in his late 60s, Katya Kabanova was a remarkable piece of creativity from a man considered by his peers to be 'past his best'. How he must have shocked his friends with this extraordinary work. Not perhaps the happiest of pieces, dealing as it does with infidelity driven by a pathetic man and the mother in law from hell, it is nonetheless a study in passion, frustration and mental stability.

Katie Bray as Varvara and Alexander Sprague as Kudryash
Classically operatic in style (passion, tragedy, stupid people behaving badly - the posh word is verismo) this production is viscerally illustrated by the dark, foreboding, but versatile stage set.

Harold Meers as Boris and Stephanie Corley as Katya
Somewhat controversially, the opera uses Janáček's speech-melody style of singing - a wild enhancement of the natural pitch rhythms of normal speech. It just sounds Welsh to me. And throughout the opera, through vast swathes of dense, rich orchestration and many beautiful singing parts, Janáček manages to avoid putting any three or four notes together into a recognisable melodic form. That's quite an achievement in itself - almost on par with Douglas Adams' infinite number of monkeys writing Shakespeare - but somewhat irritating nonetheless. Would it have killed him to write something we could hum on the freezing journey home?

Also by Richard Trinder...
The Rite Of Spring And Gianni Schicci. Held Together By Voodoo
Opera North's Magic Flute
Cry Havoc And Let Slip The Dogs Of War
The Nutcracker: Well Sparkly!
Go Off-Piste At Alexander's This Winter
As ever the production quality and the performances from Opera North were top-notch, with new guest singers including Stephanie Corley as Katya, who seemed to me to be emphasising the collapse of Katya as a mental problem, not just emotional (perhaps those two cannot be properly separated).

Heather Shipp made a monstrous Kabanicha come to life and was a wicked bully to her pathetic son Tichon (Andrew Kennedy).

American Tenor Harold Meers (Boris - Katya's lover) completed a line-up of cowering male characters. Katie Bray played a delightfully light and frivolous character called Varvara who, with her own lover Kudryash (Alexander Sprague) are the only vaguely contented pair on stage.

Katya Kabanova is an intense operatic masterpiece, and superbly rendered by Opera North and their guest singers. My only question would be about the programming: such sombre themes in the middle of Winter can feel oppressive.

Katya Kabanova. Passion, Tragedy & Madness, 3rd February 2019, 8:54 AM