Review of Seattle Opera’s production of Katya Kabanova

by James Bash James Bash writes articles for a variety of publications, including magazines such as Opera America, Open Spaces, Opera, MUSO, International Arts Manager, American Record Guide, Symphony, Opera Canada, and PSU Magazine. The newspapers include Crosscut, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Oregonian, The Columbian, The Portland Tribune, The Register-Guard, and Willamette Week. James has also written a number of articles for the Oregon Arts Commission and contributed articles to the 2nd edition of the Grove Dictionary of American Music.James was a fellow to the 2008 NEA Journalism Institute for Classical Music and Opera. He is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America (mcana.org) and lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, Kathy. 08.03.2017


Tragedy can happen anywhere. That’s why the 1950s setting in the United States looked comfortably appropriate in Seattle Opera’s production of “Katya Kabanova.” Designed by Genevieve Blanchett and Mark Howett, the white picket fence, the expansive living room of a ranch house, and the video projections of wild rivers updated the setting from a village near the Volga River in the 1860s to a small town that could easily have been in the Pacific Northwest. The powerfully expressive singing of Melody Moore in the title role and evocative playing by the orchestra under Oliver von Dohnányi highlighted the performance on opening night (February 25) at McCaw Hall.

Melody Moore

Written by Leoš Janáček, “Katya Kabanova” tells the story of a lovely, young woman trapped by circumstances that she cannot overcome. Her domineering mother-in-law constantly belittles Katya and runs rough-shod over her husband, Tichon. Katya finds herself longing for another man, Boris, who is single but must tolerate his gruff and boorish uncle in order to get his inheritance. An evening liason between Katya and Boris pushes Katya into a heightened emotional state, and she confesses her adultery to the townspeople. Katya then runs off, causing the townspeople to search for her. She meets with Boris, but they don’t have a future together. Distraught yet strangely at peace with herself, Katya dies after falling into the river.

The Katya that Moore created had a depth of character that anchored the story. Her singing in the final scene revealed a tormented soul that wanted to connect with others. Joseph Dennis made for a dashing Boris, but his lovely tenor barely had enough volume to be heard above the orchestra. Nicky Spence’s Tichon, on the other hand, riveted the audience with his volcanic bursts of frustration.


Melody Moore (Katya). Philip Newton photo

Victoria Livengood excelled in every which way as Kabanicha, the evil mother-in-law, bully everyone around her with demands and proclamations. When yells at Katya that Tichon “is her husband, not her lover,” that pretty much summed up her view of marital relations. As Dikoj, Stefan Szkafarowsky spouted off like a crusty old teakettle – full of abrasiveness and a smidgeon of charm.


Victoria Livengood (Kabanicha). Philip Newton photo

Maya Lahyani played the role of Varvara with a light-hearted and free-spirited nature that provided some relief from the heaviness of Katya’s situation. It also meshed wonderfully with Joshua Kohl’s Kudrjas. The duets that featured the two lovers (Varvara and Kudrjas) were exceptionally well sung.

Patrick Nolan provided crisp stage directions that were easy to follow. One of the most symbolic moments came at the end when Katya fell backwards into the river. It seemed to be an acceptance of her fate.

Under the baton of Dohnányi, the orchestra sounded fantastic, delivering sounds that marvelously matched the text and expressed the emotional states of the characters. Lush moments, angry outbursts, ominous moods… the musicians terrifically conveyed it all. There was a solitary passage in the final scene when the clarinet (Benjamin Lulich) deftly conveyed what seemed to be the essence of Katya wandering in the woods. It was truly magical.

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