Opera Holland Park 2009
Independent on Sunday
Expressionism and verismo collide in Olivia Fuchs’s production of Kat’a Kabanova‚ the last and finest of Opera Holland Park’s 2009 season. As Boris Grigorjevic (Tom Randle) urges unhappily married Kat’a (Anne Sophie Duprels) to take his hand‚ the lovers step out on to the violet waters of the Volga‚ suspended on the pulse of Janácek’s score‚ uninhibited by the laws of nature or man. For this moment alone (lit exquisitely by Colin Grenfell)‚ Fuchs’s Kat’a would be unforgettable. As the centrepiece of a production in which closely observed character-work‚ rigorous attention to historical‚ social and psychological detail‚ fearless musicianship and realism and magic realism cohere‚ it is one of the most piercing and potent images I’ve seen……. There are no weak links. Every characterisation is thorough‚ every note sung with meaning‚ Randle’s ardent Boris and Duprels’s immersion in Kat’a’s guilt‚ longing and terror‚ like her Butterfly and Rusalka‚ sensational. Not simply the highlight of Holland Park’s season‚ this Kat’a Kabanova is the highlight of the summer.
Kát’a Kabanová‚ Janácek’s harrowing examination of sexual guilt‚ has always tended to bring out the best in British opera companies. Few of its recent stagings‚ however‚ have so unflinchingly probed its moral and emotional complexities as Olivia Fuchs’s exceptional new production for Opera Holland Park: this is the company’s greatest achievement‚ and arguably Fuchs’s as well.
Fuchs and her resourceful designer gave us a Katya pared down to its scenic essentials‚ both handsome to look at and symbolic of a fragmented world which eventually destroys the life of its protagonist…Fuchs is a really sharp director of people‚ drawing brilliantly etched character portraits from all her cast…Any British company would have been proud of this Katya
Olivia Fuchs’ production acts like a lightning rod to the opera’s frustrated emotions. Although it is an exaggeration to have the townsfolk behaving like puppets‚ the contrast with poor Kátya and her longing for emotional freedom does become even more intense. Cradling her stomach as if sick with desire and singing her heart out‚ Anne Sophie Duprels became truly the eye of the storm – an outstanding portrayal............. Altogether‚ this was one of Opera Holland Park’s finest achievements.
Kát’a Kabanová‚ Janácek’s harrowing examination of sexual guilt‚ has always tended to bring out the best in British opera companies. Few of its recent stagings‚ however‚ have so unflinchingly probed its moral and emotional complexities as Olivia Fuchs’s exceptional new production for Opera Holland Park: this is the company’s greatest achievement‚ and arguably Fuchs’s as well. She updates the work from the 1860s to the early years of the 20th century‚ locating Kát’a’s tragedy within the wider context of the hypocrisies of a smugly affluent bourgeoisie. Kabanicha (Anne Mason) terrorises her family‚ but then plays S&M games with Dikoj (Richard Angas) when everyone’s back is turned. The women who stare dismissively at Anne Sophie Duprels’s Kát’a on her way back from church‚ and turn against her after her confession‚ are revealed to be comparably trapped in loveless marriages and yearning for freedom. Duprels is wonderful in suggesting the depths of feeling beneath Kát’a’s fragility. The emotional ferocity of her singing sometimes seems out of proportion to her slight frame. She cowers in terror before Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts’s dangerous Tichon‚ and yields to Tom Randle’s vulnerable‚ gloriously sung Boris with shy rapture. Fuchs presents their passion as capable of briefly transcending the forces of society and nature that will eventually pull them apart. Their final catastrophic encounter‚ in which the gestures of desire can only trigger the bitterest of memories‚ have a veracity and emotional nakedness that is disturbing in the extreme. Stuart Stratford’s conducting‚ lyrical yet violent‚ adds immeasurably to the intensity of it all.