Searing Kat’a Kabanová

The searing intensity of this 1988 Glyndebourne recording of Janáček’s Kat’a Kabanová overcomes a rather indifferent DVD transfer to great effect.

The production by Nikolaus Lehnhoff focuses on the inner emotions, or lack of them, of the principal characters especially Kat’a and the Kabanovicka. This focus is greatly aided by the simple but colourful semi-abstract sets that bring to mind Chagall or Kandinsky in their bold use of colour. The execution of the concept is first class. Nancy Gustavson, in the title role, gives a quite breathtaking portrayal of a mental breakdown, especially intense in the confession scene. She also sings quite superbly. Felicity Palmer as her mother in law is as chilling as one could possibly wish, nowhere more so than in the final scene as she walks away from Kat’a’s body. The Varvara, Louise Winter, the facilitator of Kat’a’s fatal affair, brings some real charm to what would otherwise be pretty unrelentingly grim.

The men have less to do and the only real stand out is bass Donald Adams as Dikoj. His scene with Palmer is oddly compelling in a revolting sort of way. The other men are perfectly adequate but it’s the women who carry the show here. The other real star is the LPO under Andrew Davis. This is a hell of a score and Davis, wonderfully supported by his players, makes the most of it. I just wish the sound quality had been better.

The production for DVD is adequate. Helped by the small stage of the old theatre at Glyndebourne video director Derek Bailey lets us see what is happening and only in Act 3 does he get a bit close up happy. All in all it’s not a bad job for a 1988 TV broadcast. The picture is tolerable. It’s 4:3 with hard English subtitles. As all 100 minutes of the opera are crammed onto one DVD5 it’s perhaps surprising it’s as good as it is. Sound is Dolby 2.0 and again “adequate” is as good as it gets. There are no extras or documentation beyond a chapter listing. The european release on a different label may be a little less Spartan.

Technical reservations aside, this is well worth seeing.