Review: A searing ‘Katya Kabanova’ on the Seattle Opera stage

A review of Seattle Opera’s first-ever production of Janacek’s 1921 masterpiece, “Katya Kabanova,” through March 11 at McCaw Hall.

Nearly a century after it premiered, Leoš Janáček’s “Katya Kabanova” has made it to the Seattle Opera stage for the first time. The Czech composer’s portrayal of a sensitive young woman desperately in need of an escape route from her repressive surroundings contains all the ingredients for a searing music drama.

Even if some of these were only minimally present on opening night, the company’s new production delivers a feverishly powerful emotional experience. It easily surpasses that of quite a few shallow works mindlessly revered as standard repertory.

Decades ago, Seattle Opera flirted with the Janáček renaissance. General director Aidan Lang is to be commended for filling in the Janáček gap after too long an absence with “Katya” (1921), the first in the composer’s miraculous series of stage works from his final decade inspired by an unrequited love.

OPERA REVIEW

Seattle Opera: ‘Katya Kabanova’

by Leoš Janáček. Through March 11 (two casts), McCaw Hall, Seattle; tickets from $25 (206-389-7676 or seattleopera.org).

Janáček adapted his source material, a play by the 19th-century Russian realist Alexander Ostrovsky, into a compact dramatic juggernaut. The title character is unhappily married to Tichon, a well-off merchant who shows little interest. Treated with merciless contempt by Kabanicha, Tichon’s viciously domineering mother, Katya finds temporary solace in the attentions of a fellow outsider, Boris. But she becomes overwhelmed by feelings of guilt that — all too literally — end up drowning her.

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The Australian team invited by Lang to stage “Katya Kabanova” sets the opera in 1950s America, presumably in a rural Pacific Northwest locale. The visuals by Genevieve Blanchett and Mark…

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