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
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

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.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas