North East Post
A Voice of the Free Press
Mike Tilling
Arts Correspondent
1:02 AM 27th January 2024

Classical Music:Katja Kabanova – Leos Janacek

Katja Kabanova – Leos Janacek

London Symphony Orchestra continues cycle of Janàček operas

Conducted by Sir Simon Rattle
Amanda Majeski, Simon O’Neill, Katarina Dalayman.

LSO0889 / LSO Live

Out 23 February 2024 on CD (Hybrid SACD) and via all major streaming and download services. The album will is available to pre-order and a track from the album, (Janáček: Katya Kabanova, Act 1 - Scene 1, Introduction) will be released as a single to coincide.

If a woman’s name appears in the title of an opera, she will be dead by the end of Act 3. It is not guaranteed, but it is a good rule of thumb. So, there is no need to declare a spoiler alert for Janacek’s opera; the signs are inauspicious for the heroine.

Given the tortured nature of Katja’s life, it may seem a little odd that Janacek dedicated the opera to the love of his life, as were the other two operas he wrote before he died. Her name was Kamila Stosslova. She was 25 and married when Janacek first saw her; he was 63. If this was an infatuation, it was one that endured through to the end of his life, and he wrote her some 700 love letters.

(What would we have to gossip about without the lives of the famous?)

Based on The Storm by Alexander Osstrovsky, Janacek fashions a controversial (for the time) plot of sex and suicide. It is doubtless controversial because Katja is married to the hapless Tichon. Despite all her efforts to prevent his departure, Tichon absents himself on a business trip, leaving the affair between Katja and Boris to flourish with the inevitable outcome. I do not intend rehearsing the complex plot or placing characters in their appropriate niches here; the cast is just too big, but Katja’s isolated suicide is lamentable and without any exculpatory features. Do the others learn a lesson? We are not sure.

The overture sets the scene with mysterious woodwind giving way to scurrying strings. The fanfare in the brass put me in mind of the later Glagolitic Mass, but the scene is set for powerful music reflecting powerful drama and emotions. Katja is sung by the commanding American soprano Amanda Majeski, while her lover is New Zealander Simon O’Neill. One of the many things that astonishes me about opera singers is their capacity to give a convincing rendition of a foreign language. I can understand switching between languages that share common roots with English, like Italian and German, but Czech?

Conductor Simon Rattle, helming the London Symphony Orchestra, gives his customary clarity of direction. It is well known that various hands have revised Janacek’s original, and I am in no position to discriminate between them, but Rattle’s version sounds authentic to me. We experience the sense of loss manifested by the quintet of characters who are, presumably, staring down the river as Katja disappears.

For Janacek fans, this is a welcome renewal of the master’s work and an insight into his somewhat tortured world.