Katya Kabanova in Salzburg: Among the people

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Corinne Winters, Katya, and David Pott Philip, Boris. Photo: Monika Rittershaus © MONIKA RITTERSHAUS, Salzburg Festival

Salzburg Festival: Barrie Kosky manages simple and big hits with the song “Katja Kabanova”.

Between people can be narrow and empty at the same time. People can be alone and still not leave people alone. There may be no love between them, and there may not be love which is the greatest disaster before the greatest disasters occur. Katja, who had her logic in 1859 in Alexander Ostrovsky’s drama “Gewitter”, and who had her logic in 1921 in Leoš Janácek’s Czech operas “Káta Kabanová” and “Katja Kabanová”, logic is oppressive to this day, even if Katya did not have to admit her adultery at that time, even if she left her burdened husband Tikhon today. Katya is the woman who cannot stand the fact that things are the way they are: lack of love, unfriendliness, lies.

This is another reason why it takes so many love affairs on stage. The sister-in-law of Katya Varvara is waiting in the most sympathetic way for the opportunity to move around the houses with her beloved Kodrias. Her mother-in-law Kapanisha unsympathetically waits for the opportunity to let her lover Dekwe into her house, which does not prevent her from humiliating Katya and blowing up their marriage under the guise of morality and integrity.

When Katya can no longer see any reason to resist the intrigued Boris, she throws herself unreservedly and sincerely in her love for him. Nobody on stage sees their nobility and desperation, but Janácek lets us hear them and Barrie Kosky lets us see them. In the Felsenreitschule, for the premiere of the opera at the Salzburg Festival, he prepared one of those taut miracles, in themselves so simple theatrical miracles that he does not always succeed, but seems to come easily from the hand.

The forever broad stage is the Felsenreitschule itself, hard rock. Corinne Winters immediately hits her with force and, on the other hand, crashes into the cliff into the orchestra pit. Lots of space but cramped. In the back a large crowd and their back to us, hundreds. At first, one thinks of a stunning collective performance in Salzburg from extras, but in fact, Rufus Didwiszus has designed a group of impressively realistic-looking puppets that can be assembled again and again when the curtain closes: more focused on the side, framing a narrower stage section. And of course: no group of people can sustain that.

No more props are needed, the rest is Kosky’s great personal guidance, which moves everyone in their own way. And even if people roll sideways on the floor a few times, it seems to be calculated. Victoria Beer wore the set in muted, modern colors like the set – oddly enough, there’s something new for Katja in every scene, perhaps it should make it clear that time is running out. The singers separate from the crowd or exit the narrow passages that open between them. Only Katya never belongs, she is very lively, very graceful, and already on stage for auditions, she is unhappy in the way that enthusiastic people are not.

Salzburg’s American debutante Corinne Winters, who can be heard in Frankfurt last season as Iolanta (in Tchaikovsky’s opera) and next season will be heard as Madame Butterfly, is the perfect embodiment of the deeply tense, love-loving and then explosive feelings. This leads to the operatic paradox that the singer triumphs while the character dies.

Kosky stumbles upon one powerful picture after another, and Winters can show them all: open her face as a book in which the air of life and deathly anxieties becomes empty and only visible, she jumps into the arms of her miserable husband Tikhon in the last attempt to save her. Carrying his love and his separation from him as a small child. Or she disappears completely behind her lover Boris in her arms, while we only see (similar to Kosky) her bare arms and hands feeling his back like little animals in their own right. Her soprano, young and at the same time shockingly mature, blazes in masterfully balanced vibrations and in large arcs that seem effortless.

Winters’ dark bell twists well to miso Jarmila Balážová, the uncomplicated Varvara, greedy for life to the point of friendly cruelty. The sharp contrast to this: the great Evelyn Herlitzius as a bad wife’s mother and also in the deep part with a still light voice. She struts stiffly with her crutch, perfectly separated only in a game of loveless sex with Dikoj, bass Jens Larsen, who, like all the men here, should be content with a supporting role. Boris, David Pat Phillip, is his young heir – economic dependencies lie bleakly over mental struggles – with a splendid period in an evening of brilliant color: Jaroslav Brezina is the reluctant and weak Tishon, Benjamin Howlett is cheeky and in turn cheeky and sharp. Singing Kudrjaš (The Great Waiting Song).

You certainly don’t have to come from the same town as Janaske to conduct Katya Kabanova, but the fact that Jacob Hrosa is from Brno has its appeal. With the Vienna Philharmonic, he finds Katja’s voice relatively melancholy and gentle, a non-director that suits this title heroine. The Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor (led by Huw Rhys James) sings from the start, on stage are a host of extras that sometimes reflect the inner excitement of the outside world.

There is no way out for Katja until she takes a slab off the stage floor in a very casual and simple way and lets herself fall into it (into the Volga). After the excitement, the rest of the staff returned to the crowd as if nothing had happened. A little of that needs a tough, grandiose conclusion to Oprah’s need.

Salzburg Festival , Felsenreitschule: August 11, 14, 21, 26 and 29. On TV on August 20, 8:15 PM on 3sat. www.salzburgerfestspiele.at

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