Scottish Opera’s innovative new production of the 1921 Czech melodrama, Katya Kabanova, opens dramatically to a scene of rusted bridges and an arresting tableau vivant where a crowd with torches have gathered on the muddy banks of the Volga to view the washed-up body of a drowned woman while a man and his mother stare on aghast.
Transposing the very Chekhovian plot of Katya to an old Soviet bloc industrial town in the Brezhnev era, Stephen Lawless’ production of Janacek’s story of frustrated desires is riveting from literally the first note and explores dark sexuality and thwarted longing with unflinching frankness. “You don’t love me the way you used to now that you’ve found a wife,” Kabanicha, bitch-mother extraordinaire, throws blatantly at her son, though later lets her hair fall seductively over her shoulders while beckoning on the sleazy merchant, Dikoy.
Meanwhile, the eponymous Katya is overcome with desire for the new-boy-in-town, Boris, and pines for him endlessly before agreeing to a tryst by the water’s edge – while other lovers strip down to their underwear and frolic in the evening waters. And, while as literary heroines go, Katya makes Tess of the D’Urbervilles look like a militant feminist – “they should have thrown me the in the Volga” she laments at one point. Yep, that sounds like a pretty good idea, Katya! – Laura Wilde’s portrayal of a ruined woman is beyond breathtaking. The whole company from diva to background artistes put on a stellar performance – though they have been given a score to die for – and this must be one of the best opera productions this reviewer has seen in many months.
Leslie Travers’ set is a work of art in its own right, with its evocative muddy river bank below and labyrinth of bridges above, plus panels and doorways opening and closing to reveal and hide other vistas and characters as the story unfolds. Director Lawless and movement director Lynne Hockney have created a wildly imaginative and highly satisfying staging of what could have been an exceptionally static piece.