NZ Opera’s Kátya Kabanová opens appealingly with mystery. The lovely Kátya (Dina Kuznetsova) appears in soft pink, pretty and delicate beneath a blanket of stars. An aura of childlike wonder surrounds the scene – I feel as if I am gazing at a moving scene in a picture book. A jolly science teacher praises the beauty of the river while a servant, unimpressed, disagrees. I lean back into my seat, enjoying the beautiful set and costumes, and being taken back in time.
The lyrical novel begins. Set in 1950s America, everyone is suited, booted and coiffed – the set similarly constructed to paint a picture of order and grace: religious symbols in the tidy house, a bleach-white picket fence, pruned trees, a high-flying American flag. It is Sunday, church day. At the conclusion of the service, the lawn is awash with bows and smiles.
Polite and perfect settings soon juxtapose strongly with emerging, unregulated emotions. It seems that a religious morning has done nothing to soothe the spirits of a conflicted husband, a domineering mother, a fiery adopted sister, a lonely woman, a cantankerous uncle, and a man trapped by his uncle’s demands and his hopeless love for a married woman. The river to me becomes a visual representation of the changing temperaments of the human soul – surging with secrets, calm one moment and stormy the next.
As always I loved the visual and musical feast that I have come to associate with NZ Opera’s commitment to excellence. Though set in 1950s America, there are many themes and threads which are relatable in any time – most of all the universal emotional experience that we, being human, undoubtably share. Terse, lyrical outbursts by the individualistic Leoš Janáček carry the character-driven plot forward as we follow Kátya’s footsteps through a journey of inner struggle and courage.
Though Kátya Kabanová is the New Zealand Opera’s final offering for 2017, it is by no means one that should be overlooked. The performances of the cast are bold, heartfelt and haunting. The 1950s in the USA certainly marked a time when men ruled both the workplace and the home but seldom their mothers. Kátya Kabanová is a moving example of how at times that formula could go so tragically wrong. Patrick Nolan, the director, and Genevieve Blanchett, the production designer, seem to have taken particular care to make sure that this notion was not lost on we, the audience.
Although a tragedy, which has been compared to Romeo and Juliet, Kátya Kabanová does provide enough by way of individual performances, breathtaking lighting and set designs to leave us with a satisfying smile at the end of it all. Over and above those, there are outstanding performances by Wyn Davies [conductor] and The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, as well as a spectacular audio-visual presentation which helped keep the suspended reality of Leoš Janáček’s vision and story completely alive and forbearing.
Kátya Kabanová has three more performances in Auckland this month before the production moves to Wellington’s St James Theatre for four dates from 7 October. For more details, see NZ Opera website.
Saturday, 16 September, 2017 – ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland
Written with Jarred Tito
This post has also been published on Libel.
Image © NZ Opera via Facebook.