Monday, 17 November 2008

DVD: Marthaler´s Salzburg Katia Kabanova

Katia Kabanova. Salzburg Festival 1998. Production: Christoph Marthaler. Cast: Angela Denoke (Katia Kabanova), David Kuebler (Boris), Jane Henschel (Kabanicha), Dagmar Peckova (Varvara). Conductor: Sylvain Cambreling with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Further information here.


The trademark of Christoph Marthaler is to stage opera as the desolate stories of everyday life characters. Admittedly, it is a two-edged sword, as much of the appeal of opera is, in my opinion, related to providing contemporary relevance. The occasional problem with Marthaler, however, is that his idea of "everyday life" constitues an endlessly sad grey-shaded world of what looks like a closed Eastern European working class environment 30 years ago. He showed us this world with his Tristan and Isolde in Bayreuth earlier this year. And about a decade earlier, we still are in the same world, this time in his Salzburg Festival production of Janacek´s Katia Kabanova.

This Katia Kabanova takes place in an open interior courtyard in the middle of an apartment complex with nosy neighbours constantly following the action. Set in a desolate brown-grey Eastern-European environment in 30-40 years ago, obviously.
However, what didn´t really work out in Tristan and Isolde, works out rather brilliantly in Katia Kabanova. Isn´t this opera the epitome of desolate everyday life? The inability to break with conventions, even if that means to continue a loveless, desolate life is exactly what Christoph Marthaler captures in this staging.

Angela Denoke is a virtually ideal Katia for this sort of interpretation, looking and acting the part admirably apart from providing engaged, detailed singing. Which also applies to David Kuebler as Boris and Dagmar Peckova as Varvara. Jane Henschel´s Kabanicha would have made a much bigger impact had she had a stronger presence on stage.

Musically, Sylvain Cambreling provides a relative neutral and detailed reading, which I have diffictulty expressing much enthusiasm about, especially when previously exposed to the sumptuous readings of Sir Charles Mackerras.

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):


Angela Denoke: 4-5
Dagmar Peckova: 4
David Kuebler: 4
Jane Henschel: 3


Christoph Marthaler´s staging: 5

Sylvain Cambreling: 3-4


Overall impression: 4

1 comment:

DB said...

I'm not sure how the endless sadness of the grey Eastern European world, if I may paraphrase your excellent description, will affect my desire to revisit this DVD, which I really enjoyed first time round, but a little less on revisiting (the production, not the music).

This was my first real intro to Janacek's operas and it made me explore the rest of his operatic oeuvre. Marvellous 20th century opera composer - a bit of a rare species imo.

But the wall-facing routine now makes me feel like shouting at them "go on, why don't you bang your head against that wall. I would". It's interesting how the test of repeated viewing often exposes the half-lives of certain theatrical devices.

Cambreling is fine, imo.

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