Janacek Katya Kabanova, English National Opera, London Coliseum

4.00

English National Opera’s new staging of Janacek’s heartbreaking Katya Kabanova is cast big: big voices, big performers casting big shadows.

Director David Alden has always embraced shadows – deep, lowering, expressionistic shadows - and here with Charles Edwards his designer, Adam Silverman his lighting designer, and Edvard Munch their inspiration, the shadows totally overwhelm the forlorn figures that cast them. There are the hellish red and green tints, too, and even at one point, where Katya’s spineless husband Tikhon is confronted with her infidelity, the silent scream. That shall be the leitmotif for the entire evening.

Alden and Edwards really have stripped their vision of the piece to the bone. A chip-board wall, half painted with door askew, an abstract splash of water from the ever-present Volga, and one sinister relic of Russian poster art – a vision of the devil, pitchfork at the ready to torment Katya for her “sinful act” when the lightening strike of fate seals her destiny.

Her isolation – indeed everybody’s isolation - is something which is made painfully apparent on the unforgiving rake of Alden’s desolately open stage. The sheer distance at which the protagonists are often set apart from each other accentuates their irreconcilability. At Katya’s final meeting with her lover Boris (the excellent Stuart Skelton – ENO’s magnificent Grimes) the moment they look into each other’s eyes for the last time is not one of intimacy but of hopeless division.

Katya essentially inhabits a parallel dreamworld in this piece and in her first and most extensive aria – provocatively begun in front of an iconic portrait of Christ – she is truly “with the angels”. A beatific solo horn ushers her into a paradise that exists only in her reclusive imagination. It’s at moments like these that I would welcomed greater warmth, greater humanity, and indeed vulnerability, in Patricia Racette’s singing of the role. It’s a big and impressively uninhibited instrument she possesses and she gives unstintingly – but it’s pretty unyielding and the acting is somewhat “applied” in that familiar operatic manner which makes the character on stage almost indistinguishable from the performer at her elaborate solo curtain call.

All the performances are writ large bordering on the grotesque, though, and that, for Alden, is an indication of their absurdity and of the entrenched provincialism that has bred them – all, that is, except the youngsters Vanya and Varvara - Alfie Boe and Anna Grevelius – whose refreshing honesty represents a freer tomorrow.

And so the monstrous Kabanicha (indomitable Susan Bickley) is done up like a black widow, hair piled high and severe like a malevolent Norma Desmond. To her, everybody defers: her weak and violent son Tikhon (a terrifically irrational John Graham-Hall) who can never shake off his poisonous inheritance, and the pompous Dikoy (Clive Bayley in Bluebeard mode) who lives for her chastisement.

But the protagonist of the evening is the ENO orchestra attending to every facet of Janacek’s painfully beautiful and brutal score. Mark Wigglesworth conducts it magnificently, with passion and a quiet understanding, where silences become prophecies and a solo string bass line can unlock all the sorrows in the world in Katya’s final moments.

edwardseckerson.biz

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us