Robert Carsen’s producton of Janáček’s Kat’a Kabanová is typically simple and elegant. Recorded at the teatro Real in Madrid it features a flooded stage with a large number of wooden pieces, like palettes, that are rearranged to form the set. At the beginning of Act 1 the pieces form a pathway through the water simulating the banks of the Volga. Later they are rearranged int a square at centre stage to represent the claustrophobic Kabanov house. All this rearrangement is done by the ladies of the chorus who roll around in the water in white shifts. No breaks are needed between scenes, just the intermezzi the composer provided for the purpose. A mirror at the back of the stage reflecting the water and an elegant and effective lighting plot complete the staging.
The singing and acting is first class. At the centre is Kat’a of Karita Mattila. She has a suitably dramatic, yet lyrical, voice and presents a sympathetic portrait of the conflicted protagonist. She;s well supported by the youthful, energetic Varvara of Natascha Petrinsky and the appropriately harsh Kabanicha of Dalia Schaechter. Gordon Gietz is a pleasingly lyrical Kudrjáš while Miroslav Dvorský is a rather bluff Boris. There’s a good cameo from Oleg Bryjak as the coarse and brutal Dikoj. Jiří Bělohlávek gives a detailed and idiomatic reading of this lovely score.
Video direction is by François Roussillon and it’s very good. One gets a good feel for the stage production in general and even in the way Carsen uses space to isolate and put distance between characters. On Blu-ray the picture is good enough to allow for clear long shots even when the lighting is rather dim. The DTS surround sound (LPCM also offered) is also very good allowing the details in the score to be brought out clearly. It’s also got enough bass depth to cope when the composer rolls out the bass drums. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. The booklet contains a good synopsis and a chapter listing.
There’s a 24 minute bonus feature with interviews with Carsen and Bělohlávek. It’s definitely worth watching. Carsen talks about why he used water as the main element in the production; beautiful but also dangerous and frightening and how he coped with the exceedingly condensed nature of the narrative.