Scottish Opera seems to have caught the zeitgeist with this production, which is one of three Kátya Kabanovás running in the UK at the beginning of this year, with Opera North and Covent Garden also joining in the Katyamania.
But, even without seeing the others, I can be confident in saying that this looks very different. Designer Leslie Travers has created a striking industrial rust-bound Soviet set, which moves around cleverly as the action develops, and combined with Christopher Akerlind’s lighting design, provides a bold and remarkable backdrop.
The Volga river is ever present - never seen but only hinted at, with mudflats and tall grasses describing the scene, and the earthy, drab colours are also echoed in what could be 1930s to 1960s costumes.
Kátya’s tragedy sits like bookends on this production, with the opening scene a prelude of the last, and then the scenery moving with glacial speed and we go from riverbank to factory with monumental rusted steel structures and bridges across the set. This is a small-town tragedy, but an eternal tale.
This being a work by Janacek, you will search in vain for a melody you can hum, but it is still deeply satisfying musically, with the woodwind and horns in particular working overtime.
The third act is dramatically and musically most effective, and the symbolic collapse of the overhead bridge in the third act helps underscore this. This could be the Clyde and not the Volga, as we witness a realistically Scottish-looking storm, complete with a drenching rain soaking the performers, which is intensely cinematic.
Vocal performances are all strong, and Hanna Hipp as Varvara shone, as did Vanya in the form of Trystan Llyr Griffiths.
Patricia Bardon as Kabanicha is beautifully cold, manipulative and calculating, and earned a few appreciative pantomime hisses (and warm applause) at the curtain call on the opening night.
Laura Wilde is confident and strong in her debut for Scottish Opera as Kátya, and her delicate movements allow us to note small, symbolic objects against the monumental backdrops, like a delicate bird's feather and the glint of that fateful key to the garden.
The grim, rusting industrial set sticks in the memory long after this performance, and the oppressive, tyrannical nature of Kabanicha dominates, as the crushing force of destiny consumes Katya.
This is a fine, fine spectacle, and is cast with aplomb. The score, set, vocal performances and movement all combine with great effect. Kátya’s is not a happy story, but it is one that is beautifully woven.
4 Stars ★★★★