NEW YORK CITY: Kát’a Kabanová
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In Review > North America

Kát’a Kabanová

Juilliard Opera

In Review Juilliard Kata lg 717
Samantha Hankey and Felicia Moore in Juilliard’s Kát’a
© Hiroyuki Ito

JUILLIARD OPERA regularly offers such excellent work that its partially successful Kát’a Kabanová (seen April 21) proved somewhat disappointing, especially given the splendid work both conductor Anne Manson and stage director Stephen Wadsworth have accomplished there before. Janáček’s libretto is constructed around thematically salient dichotomies of indoor/outdoor and public/private. Wadsworth chose to blur these, having the river-evoking prelude open inside the Kabanov house, with all the leading characters looking mournfully at the audience. Later, the town’s two oppressive older figures (Kabanicha and Dikoj) trailed through the lovers’ outdoor idyll undetected; the former was orally serviced by the latter in gratuitous mime far more sensual than anything afforded to Kát’a and Boris, whose duet at least suggests a passion that was not registered in the staging or in the orchestra pit. Kabanicha’s post-coital shame and crying in a downstage corner stole the spotlight. Perhaps the intention was to show how interpenetrated the whole atmosphere was by the elders’ bullying and hypocrisy, but an audience member who did not know the opera would surely have been confused by its spatial presentation here. 

Act III worked best in supplying the needed sense of outdoor space, with Kát’a pushed up toward the flyspace in her “defiled” marital bed by a unit evoking the ruined chapel and the bed hovering scarily over her quasi-mad scene, set off by dry ice. In the farewell scene, Boris was real, rather than a phantom, and, in one of Wadsworth’s several strikingly apt images, he and Kát’a bade adieu jointly holding the bed’s blanket. The Volga (well voiced by the Rigoletto-influenced offstage chorus) was a mere stage trough. The mourning Tichon’s rejection (but final embrace) of his dominant mother was another characteristically insightful directorial touch. But sometimes such insight was lacking, as when Kát’a’s entrance music (explicitly modeled on Cio-Cio-San’s) ushered in first Varvara and then Kabanicha, with the heroine almost an afterthought. Vita Tzykun’s apt costumes and Nicole Pearce’s keen lighting proved the key elements in a handsome production. Manson’s orchestra suffered a lot of opening-night jitters, with brass flubs and muddy string playing. Her reading was persuasive rhythmically—no small achievement—but was les successful in providing expressive atmosphere.

Felicia Moore unfurled a striking instrument as Kát’a, using a pronounced vibrato to cut through the orchestra but retaining pure sound on sustained phrases. She moved well and proved a skilled vocal actress, layering the character’s temptation and guilt. Wadsworth directed Sara Couden bizarrely as Kabanicha: the character faced the audience, declaiming impassively. It’s a tough assignment for a young singer, and here the contralto inhabited neither the words nor the tricky vocal line convincingly. Samantha Hankey, recently the company’s phenomenal Agrippina, excelled at Varvara’s totally different challenges. 

The work’s three tenor parts were uncommonly well served, with excellent diction. Gerard Schneider proved a near-ideal Boris, with warm, ardent sound. Miles Mykkanen drew a complex Tichon, in ductile lines rather than the usual screaming. Sam Levine’s engaging Kudrjáš sounded solid but rather strained on high phrases. Alex Rosen created a credibly violent, resonant Dikoj. Xiaomeng Zhang showed a smoothly produced baritone as Kuligin.  

Using an English translation was wise, though the cast hadn’t unified their pronunciation of names. (For example, we heard “TEE-shon” and the correct “TEE-chon.”)  —David Shengold 

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