How do you know when you’ve become addicted to opera? Maybe it’s when your first thought upon realizing that you’ll have a few days to yourself in Paris is “What’s playing at the Opéra?” Or, more tellingly, you find yourself excited about a ticket to the relatively obscure Czech opera Kátia Kabanová by Leoš Janáček. In any case, I again found myself at the Palais Garnier this week.
Kátia Kabanová was written in the 1920s, but takes place in the Russian town of Kalinov on the banks of the Volga in the 1860s. This version, directed by Christoph Marthaler, which first came to the Palais Garnier in 2004, displaces the action to what seemed to be the courtyard of a Soviet-era housing block. What I loved about this choice was that people would randomly look down into the courtyard from their windows, adding a touch of reality to the scenery. However, the staging posed other problems, most of all for the conclusion, when *SPOILER ALERT!* Kátia commits suicide. Also, the people sitting in the left-hand side loges must have missed much of the action in Act 1, which took place along the left-hand wall. Thankfully, I was on the right and very little was staged on that side.
The story of the opera is quite simple: Kátia, the young wife of Tichon, is constantly berated by her mother-in-law Kabanicha. While Tichon is on a business trip, Kátia sneaks off to meet Boris, for whom she has secret feelings. Eventually, Tichon returns and, during a great storm, Kátia confesses to Tichon in front of everyone about her affair with Boris and runs away. Learning that Boris’s uncle is sending him away, Kátia eventually throws herself into the river. Tichon cries over the body as Kabanicha matter-of-factly thanks the bystanders for their help. In this production, she goes and pours herself a drink and slowly sips it as the lights go out abruptly, which I thought was a great way to close.
Much of the cast were reprising their roles from the original 2004 production, including Angela Denoke as Kátia, who started off a bit weak in comparison to the other leads (Ales Briscein as Kudriach, Jorma Silvasti as Boris, Donald Kaasch as Tichon, and Andrea Hill as Varvara, the adopted daughter of Kabanicha), but found her voice as the story developed. In general, I was quite impressed with the quality of singing, although physically Boris didn’t really seem to fit his role of young lover.
Finally, I must say that I really could get used to seeing performances in such a luxe opera house; although, in the spirit of Opera Tattler, who is apparently also in Paris these days, I feel compelled to declare that I have found people here much more distracting and noisy than in the States.