Seattle Opera describes Leoš Janáček’s opera, Katya Kabanova as “one of the “greatest opera you’ve never heard.” Leoš Janáček’s (pronounced LAY-ohsh YA-nah-chechk) drama makes its Seattle Opera premiere with a brand-new production of Katya Kabanova (pronounced KAH-tyah KAH-ban-noh-vah).
A late bloomer, Janáček didn’t compose his first opera until he was 50, and his greatest works were created during the final decade of his life. His greatest inspiration came in the summer of 1917, when he met Kamila Stösslová. He was 63; she was 25. They were both married to others, but he fell madly in love with her.
Although they were never lovers, she became his muse and the inspiration for his greatest works. Perhaps the emotional turmoil of “Katya Kabanova” reflects his own unfulfilled desires and longing. But because of Kamila, he turned those feelings into art. And when he died in August of 1928, she was at his bedside.
Katya Kabanova is closely connected to Janáček ‘s love for Kamila. He wrote of her on the title page of the opera’s vocal score. “. . . the flowers to bow to her, the birds to sing to her the last song of love. I have known no greater love than her. I dedicate this work to her. . . ”
Although Janáček was more modernist than his Czech predecessors, he cultivated a specific nationalistic style influenced by Moravian and other Slavic folk music. His was a highly personal and melodic mode of expression, based on rhythms and inflections of Czech speech and song. Along with Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana, he is considered one of the most important Czech composers.
Based on 9th century Russian playwright Alexander Ostrowski’s play, “The Storm,” “Katya Kabanova” made its bow in 1921 in Brno, capital of the South Moravian Region of the Czech Republic. Janáček was 67 years old at the time. The opera wasn’t heard in New York City until 1964, when it was presented by the Juilliard School of Music. New York Times music critic Harold C. Schonberg wrote “it has moments of piercing sadness and sweetness that are not easily forgotten.”
Janáček may less known than Puccini, Mozart and Verdi, but Seattle Opera’s general director Aidan Lang, believes Janáček’s “dark opera” will grab you with the same gritty intensity of a TV series like “Breaking Bad” or “The Man in the High Castle”.
Sometimes described as the “first minimalist composer, Janáček’s style is spare and to the point. The musical patterns of his music are uniquely his own, with strange and haunting harmonies and chords.
Seattle Opera sets the opera in small town America during the 1950s. It tells the story of Katya, a passionate and unhappy young woman trapped in a marriage with Tichon, a drunken and abusive husband controlled by his vicious and possessive mother, Kabanicha. Katya envies the free spirit of Kabanicha’s foster daughter Varvara, and her lover, Vanya Kudrjas.
As Katya longs to be free from small-town morality and self-righteous religious hypocrisy, she risks all when she finds true love in an adulterous relationship with the debonair Boris, nephew of Kabanicha’s friend, Dikoj. But Katya’s burden of guilt becomes so intense that it eventually leads to her tragic suicide.
Sopranos Corinne Winters and Melody Moore alternate in the role of Katya, while tenors Joseph Dennis and Scott Quinn, both making their Seattle Opera debut, alternate as her lover Boris. Victoria Livengood sings Kabanicha, with Stefan Szkafarowsky, also making his Seattle Opera debut as her friend Dikoj. Maya Lahyani sings Varvara, with Joshua Kohl as her lover, Vanya Kudrjas. Nicky Spence portrays Tichon and Joseph Lattanz portrays Kuligin, Kudrjas’ friend.
“Katya Kabanova” is sung in Czech with English subtitles; running time two hours and 10 minutes, including one intermission; February 25th through March 11 at McCaw Hall. Tickets are available by calling 206-389-7676 or by clicking here.
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