18 Sep 2017

Review: New Zealand Opera’s Katya Kabanova

From Upbeat, 1:20 pm on 18 September 2017

New Zealand Opera’s final production of 2017, Janacek’s Katya Kabanova, opened in Auckland this weekend. It follows house wife Katya, who is expected to stay at home and obey her husband and cruel mother. But she’s determined to break free of the shackles of home. Justin Gregory reviews Katya Kabanova at Auckland’s Aotea Centre.

Dina Kuznetsova and Angus Wood in NZO's Katya Kabanova

Dina Kuznetsova and Angus Wood in NZO's Katya Kabanova Photo: Supplied

This production is set in 1950's America with flag poles and expectations of how to behave, a prim suburbia with a river of emotion and desire running underneath it. When Katya stares out of the window of her home she sees white water tumbling over rocks - everyone else sees the front lawn. 

This felt like an emotionally cold production of what is an opera of intense emotion. There is a physical distance between all of the characters that the Aotea Centre stage exaggerates. Some trick of the sharply raked stage meant that when characters went upstage they felt much further away than usual. Dina Kuznetsova is also very little, so all the hard work she was putting in didn't reach me fully. When she was allowed down to the lip of the stage, she was dynamic. But mostly, I felt cut off from the emotion. 

Dina Kuznetsova sounds glorious as Katya. Everyone was on top of their game vocally and the APO were superb - they got the biggest hand at the curtain call. But an issue with either the absence of hard surfaces in the set or the acoustic oddities of the Aotea Centre meant that when a singer went upstage their voice began to disappear.

I'm a little disappointed that I didn't feel the emotional punch of this piece. I kept thinking back to NZO's 2008 production of Jenufa which I remember so clearly and still talk about. I expected a similar experience with Katya Kabanova and it didn’t happen for me.

But it sounds wonderful and when the directing slips you can rely on Janacek’s score to tell you all you need to know.