Monday, November 30, 2009

Janáček in Chicago

Hey y'all. Back from Chicago, where I stopped home for Thanksgiving after five days in Amsterdam for a friend's birthday. More on the regietastic Salome I saw at the Nederlandse Opera later--for now, some thoughts on Lyric's current production of Káťa Kabanová, which I saw Saturday...

Káťa Kabanová has a lot in common with the more popular Jenůfa--nice but flawed girl vs. provincial assholes in two-bit town--though it is decidedly the less 'feel-good' of the two. That said, the heroines are really quite different. Where Jenůfa is simple and naive, a creature of the village who, through hardship, reveals great moral depths within herself, Káťa is doomed to never reconcile herself to the hypocrisy and deceit of the village. She is cursed with an artistic soul in a universe devoid of true and pure sentiment, and it destroys her.

The fit of Karita Mattila's voice to the music of these two characters is surely one of the more exquisite things one can experience in an opera house right now. In Káťa's long monologue in the first act, telling of the cherished internal life being crushed under the heel of her married life, Mattila creates moments of such jaw dropping beauty and intensity you almost can't believe your ears. Mattila's Káťa is a woman driven to frenzy by a problem she can't figure out--how she can live, and be expected to live, in the world without any real feeling. Mattila draws you deep into Káťa's terrible dilemma, her voice pealing out of the nervous mass of Janáček's score to reflect the sunlight for a moment before it is consumed again. Chicago people: four shows left. No excuses.

Mattila was well paired with the very exciting Brandon Jovanovich as Boris. I've never seen him before, but looked up him up after Will mentioned him in comments the other week, and was pleased to hear him fulfill all the promises of those youtube videos. Warm and passionate voice and way loud. Can't wait for more of him.

Supporting cast is uniformly strong--can't get quite as excited about the Kabanicha as the Kostelnicka, but Judith Forst was shrill and suffocating and all that good stuff. Special props to the rich-voiced Tichon of Jason Collins.

Great work in the pit from the Lyric orchestra and conductor Markus Stenz--if Jenůfa is more lyrical, the KK score evokes a more varied landscape for its play, at times sensuous, weary, and cruel, and packed with fascinating detail. The production, an early 90s show from the Met, is basically on target. The sorta faux hinted perspective thing with little buildings at the back of a severely raked stage looks like crap from the balcony, but it provides the kind of simple, neutral platform on which Janáček seems to work best, so fine.


Lisa Hirsch said...

Having heard Jovanovich twice in SF, both times in Puccini, both times with Racette, I am now hot hot hot to hear him in Jenufa or KK with Racette. And - I liked Racette's Jenufa better than Mattila's.

If you want to hear him in a different repertory, he is singing Siegmund in the SF Ring in 2011.

Alex said...

Blasphemy! Oh not really, I was pretty bummed I missed Racette's Jenufa at WNO a few years back for some stupid reason I of course don't even remember anymore.

Marking my calendar now for that 2011 BJ Siegmund. I mean like, Janacek tenor parts are great and all, but I deeply need to see his A-game live.

JRD said...

Fantastic review, Alex.

I shall see Miss Mattila as Katya in the run's second-to-last performance. Can't wait.

Thanks for whetting my appetite.


Will said...

My introduction to Janacek came from a Czech recording of Jenufa that EMI picked up and distributed in the US during the late 60s. Although the MET had brought the opera to the US with the gorgeous, charismatic Maria Jeritza, the opera was killed by the Times critic of the day as being filled with undesirables and unbelievables--he was virulently anti-realism. (His hatched job on La Boheme on essentially the same grounds did not, however, have the same effect).

In the succeeding decades I've been thrilled to see Janacek's triumphant march into the major (and many regional) opera houses everywhere. The roles are so grateful, and the man seems to have had an invincible theatrical sense.