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Janácek: Káta Kabanová
Leos Janacek, Charles Mackerras, David Atherton
Janácek: Káta Kabanová
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (19) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (16) - Disc #2


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One of the great Twentieth Century operas in its best produc
Christopher McKoy | La Canada Flintridge, CA United States | 12/18/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"If you have never heard a Janacek opera, Kat'a Kabanova will be unlike any you've experienced. Moreover, if you believed until now that Richard Strauss and Puccini have a monopoly on the expression of intense passion in Twentieth Century opera, Janacek will surely change your opinion. With the possible exception of the final 10 minutes of Janacek's 'The Makropulos Case,' Kat'a Kabanova features the most passionate music Janacek ever wrote. But this is not to say that his is the 'lush-romantic' musical passion to which fans of Nineteenth Century opera are accustommed (e.g., Massenet's music). Janacek's is the expression in music of intense, sometimes even painful, longing (one Janacek scholar refers to his music as the ultimate in 'musical expressionism') -- an accomplishment all the more remarkable in view of the fact that Janacek is almost completely devoid of Wagner's influence. In Kat'a Kabanova, Janacek assaults the listener with the kind of unremitting tension achieved by Wagner in Tristan but through the employment of his own unique musical idiom, which also has little in common with the Czech musical tradition of Dvorak and Smetana. In this respect Janacek is, like Mussorgsky, sui generis; his style is all his own. Of very few composers can this be said.

In my view, Kat'a Kabanova is Janacek's masterpiece. Kabanova is the first of Janacek's last four operas and is (musically) considerably more accessible than the final two, 'The Makropulos Case' and 'From The House of the Dead' -- though if you find yourself attracted to Kabanova, you will surely want to explore all of Janacek's operatic work. (In particular, 'From the House of the Dead,' based on Dostoevsky's memoirs from his time in a Siberian labor camp, is a masterpiece of operatic realism -- it is surely one of the most grim operas ever written, even moreso than Berg's Wozzeck.) The plot of Kat'a Kabanova, which is considerably more conventional than Janacek's other librettos (e.g., his next opera, The Cunning Little Vixen, features a cast comprised mostly of animals!), is based on the novel 'The Storm' by the Russian writer Victor Ostrovsky, and revolves around a woman (Kat'a) who is painfully trapped in a loveless marriage. While her husband is away, she has an affair that eventually leads to her suicide from despair and guilt. The final scene featuring a long 'aria' by Kat'a (Janacek didn't generally include true arias in his operas after his third opera, Jenufa) in which she expresses her feelings, among other things, about her own impending suicide, is utterly captivating.

There is a more recent recording of Kabanova that is also conducted by Charles Mackerras (who almost single-handedly rescued Janacek's operas from undeserved obscurity), but the singing is not quite up to Soderstrom's and Dvorsky's in Mackerras' earlier recording of the opera, which was the first of what became his 'cycle' of Janacek operas for Decca.

Let me conclude by saying that if you are looking for a new and dramatic direction in your opera listening, Janacek may well be your man. If you've had enough of Wagner's (and Strauss's) 'endless melody' and have grown tired of the pretty arias and big choruses of the Italians, give Kat'a Kabanova a try -- you won't be disappointed.
A rewarding experience
S Duncan | London | 07/15/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Having enjoyed Dvorak and Smetana, Janacek came as a jolt to my system. I started off with Jenufa and initially did not like it. The Kostelnicka's big aria impressed me though and Eva Randova's rendition was enough to sustain my curiosity. Surely the amazing music in that aria could not exist in pure isolation. While I did grow to appreciate Jenufa, it still isn't one of my favourite operas. At this juncture, I should say, for the benefit of the unsuspecting (as I was) that his isn't your tuneful `Russalka,' `The Bartered Bride' or `Dalibor'. It is pretty much music that tries to reflect the vocal inflexions of spoken Czech. In Jenufa, however, there was a curious style where the last line of some verses were repeated so it wasn't quite the `verissimism' I'd traditionally envisioned. I hasten to add that the music isn't that difficult to approach. I'm more of a traditionalist and I actually despise a lot of the more modern (or post-modern) trends that emerged (and continue to emerge) in classical music. In fact, Janacek has a compelling feel for folk choruses and used them to very good effect in the 2 operas I've heard.

But to the present matter, I find Kata Kabanova much preferable to Jenufa. I more than merely `appreciate' it; I like it. It's helped me cross the barrier into a less conventional genre of (Czech) opera that would have previously repulsed me. The overture at the beginning is beautiful and surprisingly melodic....I don't mean this in comparison to his other work but that the overture stands on its own merit. The sense of drama is very real though and there is a very charming theme that recurs in the opera. There is the sound of (sleigh and other) bells, piccolos, pizzicato strings and a host of other endearing instruments. You can hear it in "Je cas, Tichone" at track 10. The orchestra is beautifully conducted and they play with complete conviction. It just `feels right' even though I'm NOT Czech! But for these artists to be able to convey that feeling speaks of the standard of their performance.

The singers are impressive. Elisabeth Soderstrom's voice carries an affecting vulnerability to seems to have more of a `tremble' than a vibrato. It certainly works fine here though. She sings with great feeling and makes the role her very own.

The male roles are securely sung and the other special mention goes to Nadezhda Kniplova. I heard her in Krombholc's recording of `Dalibor' and she was a tour de force. Here, the voice has obviously `matured' some more, which is perfect for her cutting, biting and severe role of the Mother-in-law. She is amazing! The cruelty and belligerence that emerge from her characterisation is demonstration-class!

Of course, the Decca sound is impeccable. I say give this a try, if you're ready to explore the wide, wonderful world of opera a little beyond Mozart and Verdi....or even Dvorak!
The lasting attraction of Kat'a
S Duncan | 02/19/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This re-release of what is arguably Janacek's finest opera is essential listening for anyone with even a passing interest in good music. From a composer described by some as the greatest opera composer of the twentieth century, and conducted by the able baton of the great Mackerras, the extraordinary dynamism of this performance cannot be ignored. Janacek is, for me, a master of orchestration in opera, never relaxing into even mildly predictable music. Instead he drags the audience through the tragedy of Kat'a's adultery by the earlobe. From the atypically (for Janacek) well-crafted overture to the tumultuous final bars, the spiralling emotions experienced by the sensitive and at times half-crazed Katerina are forced into the listener's belly via timpani and exquisite vocal lines. High points are Katerina's moving and shattering monologue in Act 1 Sc 2, her climactic love scene with Boris in Act2 Sc2 and her final breakdown prior to her suicide in Act3 Sc2."