Katya Kabanova, Hackney Empire, London
The Magic Flute, Hackney Empire, London

Even a flawed tour is a gift to the nation

Written nearly 20 years after Jenufa and adapted from Alexander Ostrovsky's play The Storm, Janácek's sixth opera, Katya Kabanova, gnaws at the same bones of public shame and private horror. A domineering matriarch, a claustrophobic community, a feckless lover, a pulsing river. A dreaming, doomed, hypersensitive heroine. The sumptuous orchestral hues are similar, yet there is no illegitimate pregnancy, no penknife, no infanticide and no redemption. Where Jenufa's story is meticulously detailed, we must take much of Katya's on trust. Though the Kabanicha's verbal abuse stings and smarts in our ears, the physical abuse remains unseen.

As one audience member whispered during English Touring Opera's new production of Katya, why doesn't she just leave? Designed by Adam Wiltshire, James Conway's muted staging does little to suggest the numb despair of a victim of domestic abuse: the passivity, the alienation. And it takes more than the unbuttoning of a fin de siècle jacket to convey the unravelling of a personality. Played out in front of a cracked panel of grey-green glass, a stifling screen of dull wallpaper, religious icons, and, finally, a Cornelia Parker-esque installation of a fragmented Day of Judgement fresco, Katya's suicide in the river Volga becomes little more than a tragic vignette; something to be recalled over a long evening of bookish conversation and plum vodka by the teacher Kudryash (Michael Bracegirdle), years after his escape to Moscow with Varvara (Jane Harrington).

Characters with a future beyond the end of the opera are always fascinating. Much as a fine Marcello and Musetta can disrupt La Bohème, Kudryash and Varvara can unbalance an undercast Katya. Harrington's rapt, girlish voice and uninhibited movements have a vulnerability, sensuality and candour that makes Linda Richardson's Katya seem stiff and dry. Though Richardson's singing is persuasive, it is difficult to believe that she was ever a girl who dreamed of flying. Meanwhile, Colin Judson's Tichon is as dangerous as a kitten who has sniffed too much catnip. Swap Judson with Richard Roberts's anonymous Boris; make Bracegirdle into Tichon (wiry and unpredictable would work in this role too); Cast Harrington as Katya (someone will soon); hang on to conductor Michael Rosewell's handsome reading of the score; search harder for a more threatening, more charismatic Kabanicha than Fiona Kimm; lose the hammy beggars and tidy the blocking; and this Katya could sear like Jenufa. As it stands, it left me dreadfully cold.

Stronger by far is Liam Steel's production of The Magic Flute: an exuberant, aerobic staging that cuts mercifully swiftly through the Masonic longueurs of Act II. Painted in the deepest blue, the striking, three-tiered, 18th-century interior, by designer Chloe Lamford, stands for temple and forest. Its trapdoors are used to great effect in the entrance of the Queen of the Night (Laure Meloy), its lampshade motif is a coy, possibly over-cute representation of enlightenment. The snake is a predatory conga of material girls and lounge lizards; the birds are brightly coloured origami figures; the Three Ladies (Cheryl Enever, Patricia Orr and Niamh Kelly) form a trio of black-clad, stiletto-heeled vamps; the Three Boys (Anne-Marie Cullum, Heather Longman and Melanie Lang) are Persian pages; and Pamina (Paula Sides) is a bookish, Gainsborough beauty.

Stylishly and subtly sung, especially by Sides, with bracing tempi from conductor Paul McGrath and crisp ensemble work from Daniel Grice's highly watchable Papageno and Mark Wilde's bashful Tamino, this Magic Flute should charm English Touring Opera's audiences from Truro to Perth.



'Katya Kabanova' / 'The Magic Flute', Hall for Cornwall, Truro (01872 262466) 23-25 Mar, then touring

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn