First seen in 2007, Tim Albery’s production of Janacek’s small-Russian-town tragedy returns for a revival. Hildegard Bechtler’s costumes indicate the staging’s repositioning of the piece from the 1860s to the time of the work’s creation – Katya Kabanova was premiered in Brno in 1921 – but her semi-abstract sets are less helpful in creating the action’s individual locales; there’s little sense of romantic wildness in the open-air nocturnal scene where Katya gives herself to her lover Boris, for instance, nor of the river Volga where she ends her tormented existence.
All of the central performances have something to offer, though there’s further to go in sharpening the edges of the characters’ strongly defined personalities. Stephanie Corley nevertheless offers a moving Katya, an individual whose utter vulnerability Janacek believed might cause her to be carried away by the breeze in a portrayal that hints right from the start at the mental frailty that eventually leads this troubled woman to suicide.
Chiefly responsible for her destruction is Heather Shipp’s Kabanicha, whose perpetual humiliation of her daughter-in-law is shocking. Andrew Kennedy encapsulates the weakness of Katya’s husband, Tichon – an alcoholic entirely under his mother’s thumb who cannot stand up for himself, let alone his wife. Harold Meers’ bold tenor suggests the romantic potential Katya sees in her neighbour Boris – someone else who fails her in her hour of need.
Right on the ball is Stephen Richardson as Boris’ uncle, the larger-than-life Dikoy – another gruesome local bully and drunk whose unsavoury relationship with Kabanicha is the subject of the narrative’s one moment of grotesque comedy.
Sian Edwards makes her company debut conducting the score, whose complex sound-world – at times of the utmost delicacy, at others of overwhelming ferocity – she and the orchestra purvey with precision and passion.