It’s tricky with Janacek’s Kát’a Kabanová to know where to put an interval. After the first act is too soon but placing it before the brief third act can break the concentration and disrupt the dramatic flow.
Sadly, this is what Opera Holland Park did with its new production of the work, with an unusually long interval on the first night having a damaging effect. It’s a shame, as director Olivia Fuchs had built up a fair degree of tension by the end of Act 2, which was then dispersed amongst the chit chat and canapés.
Running at just 100 minutes, it’s preferable to play the work straight through, something OHP did two years ago with the similar length L’amore dei tre Re.
Fuchs’ production of Kát’a Kabanová , the last in OHP’s season, has a number of strengths: an elegant staging, a spectacular performance by the City of London Sinfonia under Stuart Stratford’s baton, and an excellent line-up of leads.
Anne Sophie Duprels, who triumphed here as Jenufa two years ago, is a youthful and heartfelt heroine and she’s matched by Tom Randle’s ardent Boris. Anne Mason’s Kabanicha, the mother of all mother-in-laws, is less fearsome than many but, as her hapless son, the splendid Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts excels.
Patricia Orr is a clarion Varvara and Andrew Rees buoyantly boyish as her lover Kudrjas, while Richard Angas’ spank-happy Dikoj is a richly comic bully.
There are some telling details in Fuchs’ direction. The lower classes suffer silently, imbuing the practicality of scene changing with a sense of soul-sapping drudgery. An old servant (Nuala Willis) struggles with the luggage while the burly master stands by. When Boris declares his love, Duprels’ Kát’a runs back and forth in agitation, as though the freedom it promises drives her deeper into oppression.
There’s some welcome stylisation, from the iron birdcage hemming in Kát’a’s domestic hell to the jerky movements of the chorus, which pulls the production out of the naturalistic. Unfortunately, this is carried out half-heartedly and the danger of sniggers is only a step away.
This may well gel as the performance grows over the coming weeks. The question of an interval, and the clash between artistic and finanical considerations, remains more problematic.