Norm Hollingshead previews ‘Katya Kabanova’

  • Wednesday, February 15, 2017 11:01am
  • Life

Opera aficionado Norm Hollingshead previews “Katya Kabanova,” Leoš Janáče’s opera about a young woman trapped in an arranged marriage.

The talk, funded by the Friends of the Library, is 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18 at Bethany Lutheran Church, 7968 Finch Road NE.

“Katya Kabanova” premieres Saturday, Feb. 25 at the Seattle Opera and runs through Saturday, March 11 at McCaw Hall.

General director Aidan Lang calls the production the perfect first-time opera experience.

“Katya Kabanova,” the story of a young woman longing to be free from an oppressive small town and her monstrous mother-in-law, is told through music that’s as lush and gorgeous as it is highly emotional.

“Janáček may be less familiar than composers like Verdi or Mozart, but his music is masterful,” Lang said. “This dark drama — where the dialogue is similar to how we speak — will grab you with the same gritty intensity of a TV show like ‘Breaking Bad’ or ‘The Man in the High Castle.’”

Seattle Opera sets out the story this way:

In a town of strict moral codes, there’s no room for Katya to be herself, let alone express the innermost longings of her heart. Katya’s husband Tichon does little to protect his wife from the vicious attacks of his mother, Kabanicha.

But there’s Boris — an educated young man also trapped in the village — whom Katya secretly loves. When Tichon is away on business, Katya and Boris seize the opportunity to express their attraction, and afterward, the young woman’s guilt and agitation gathers like a storm. What happens when pent-up passions finally explode?

The brand-new production is set in rural America in the 1950s, and the opera runs roughly two hours long (with one intermission).

During that short span, however, the opera offers themes of isolation, societal pressure, and unattainable romance — which the composer himself experienced during his creative process. Janáček was inspired by his passion for Kamila Stösslová, a married woman more than 40 years his junior. While she did not return the composer’s affections, he’s said to have sent her more than 700 love letters throughout the course of 11 years.

Alternating as Janáček’s heroine are two American sopranos: Melody Moore, making both role and Seattle Opera debuts; as well as Corinne Winters, who returns to McCaw Hall for her role debut after singing Violetta in “La traviata.”

Victoria Livengood makes her role debut as Kabanicha, a character NPR Music describes as “one of the most unusual villains in any opera, and one of the most disturbing…the sort of person who can live among us, quietly and without anyone objecting.”

Also making company debuts are Joseph Dennis and Scott Quinn who portray Boris; Nicky Spence in the part of Katya’s good-for-nothing husband, Tichon; and Stefan Szkafarowsky as Dikoj.

Returning artists include Maya Lahyani and Joshua Kohl as the superficial but appealing Varvara and Kudrjás.

The entire creative team makes its Seattle Opera debut, including acclaimed stage director Patrick Nolan, production designer Genevieve Blanchett, and lighting designer Mark Howett—all of Australia; as well as Maestro Oliver von Dohnányi of Slovakia.

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