Kat'a Kabanová, Opera Holland Park, London

BBC Proms PCM2, 15 & 16, Cadogan Hall / Royal Albert Hall, London

A Janácek opera is wonderfully sung, played and staged, Graham and Martineau get cheesy, and a 'Firebird' shows off its spectacular plummage

Expressionism and verismo collide in Olivia Fuchs's production of Kat'a Kabanova, the last and finest of Opera Holland Park's 2009 season.

As Boris Grigorjevic (Tom Randle) urges unhappily married Kat'a (Anne Sophie Duprels) to take his hand, the lovers step out on to the violet waters of the Volga, suspended on the pulse of Janácek's score, uninhibited by the laws of nature or man. For this moment alone (lit exquisitely by Colin Grenfell), Fuchs's Kat'a would be unforgettable. As the centrepiece of a production in which closely observed character-work, rigorous attention to historical, social and psychological detail, fearless musicianship and realism and magic realism cohere, it is one of the most piercing and potent images I've seen.

Fuchs and designer Yannis Thavoris have moved the drama to 1919 (the year in which Janácek decided to adapt Ostrovsky's play) and a languid summer landscape where narrow paths of decking criss-cross the river. At one end is the drawing-room of the Kabanov house (a curving cage against which Kat'a beats her imaginary wings), at the other a bench where the schoolteacher Kudrjas (Andrew Rees) sits and observes the foibles of his fellow man. With the exception of Dikoj (Richard Angas), who still sports the long beard of the previous century and scoffs at the new-fangled notion of lightning conductors, this is a society taking its first, compromised steps (the women wear hobble skirts) towards modernity, then scuttling back to superstition.

Wedding rings are removed and replaced obsessively. That Kat'a, her step-sister and confidante Varvara (Patricia Orr) and the grotesque Kabanicha (Anne Mason) make their first appearance clothed in the purple, green and white colours of the suffragette movement is no coincidence. Fuchs's extends her theme of economic, religious and sexual oppression to include the servant girl Feklusa (Emma Carrington), who mournfully clutches a heavy crucifix to her breast while old Glasha (Nuala Willis) rolls her eyes, knowing that little will change her lot. Perhaps sexual frustration is a middle-class pursuit? Perhaps madness is? Either way, the townspeople spot any vulnerability, freezing in Expressionist gestures of outrage and disgust.

In the drawing-room, Kat'a and Varvara confess their frustrations, hands pressing at their skirts, their movements symptomatic of chlorosis or hysteria. A wistful, devout girl, Kat'a has been driven to neurosis by a sexless marriage. That Boris, economically dependent on Dikoj, is as weak as any wife or daughter is immaterial. The attraction is mutual, helpless, and sealed by the departure of Tichon (Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts). Emasculated and alcoholic, he too is oppressed, though by his mother, who indulges in a little joyless slap and tickle with Dikoj, rat-a-tat-tatting her hypocritical invective to Janácek's bristling staccato strings.

Under Stuart Stratford, the City of London Sinfonia plays with absolute engagement, relishing the febrile and furious lurches of this glorious, urgent tragedy. There are no weak links. Every characterisation is thorough, every note sung with meaning, Randle's ardent Boris and Duprels's immersion in Kat'a's guilt, longing and terror, like her Butterfly and Rusalka, sensational. Not simply the highlight of Holland Park's season, this Kat'a Kabanova is the highlight of the summer.

Still caught in that moment several days later, I was not in the most receptive frame of mind for Susan Graham's sunny lunchtime recital with Malcolm Martineau (Proms Chamber Concert 2). Had Holland Park done The Cunning Little Vixen instead, it might have been different, for this was a programme dominated by anthropomorphic frippery: Chabrier's "Les Cigalles"; Caplet's "Le corbeau et le renard"; Ravel's "Le paon"; and Rosenthal's "La souris d'Angleterre". Cheese plays a pivotal role in two of these songs and rather coloured the rest of them, most particularly Graham's coy male/female voicing of Debussy's "Colloque sentimental", and the radio presenter's fawning onstage interview. Interesting as it is to look beyond the standard mélodies, Franck's "Nocturne" is merely hack-work, and Graham is too sassy a presence to convince as a suicide ("La dame de Monte-Carlo").

That evening saw Jiri Belohlavek and the BBC Symphony Orchestra on very average form in a programme of Smetana, Bartok, Martinu and Stravinsky (Prom 15). I suspect it's hard to be anything other than average in a work that sounds as though the composer forgot to transcribe the first 50 bars (Martinu's Concerto for Two Pianos). But a mundane Petrushka is unusual, and even the sharp monochrome of Bartók's Dance Suite was grey and smudged. For full colour and high definition I had to wait for Andris Nelson's reading of Stravinsky's The Firebird with the CBSO (Prom 16), a triumph of discipline, energy and imagination. Though touched by Stephen Hough's reckless, tender performance of his own edition of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 2, I'd have liked to have heard it undoctored, with even more from violinist Lawrence Jackson and cellist Ulrich Heinen.

'Kat'a Kabanova', Holland Park, London W14 (0845 230 9769) until 7 Aug.

The Proms (0845 401 5040), to 12 Sep

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada