Káťa Kabanová, Opera by Leoš Janáček
The Czech composer Leoš Janáček wrote a few operas, but none stand out with the dramatic intensity and musical boldness of Káťa Kabanová. A reflection of its author’s lifelong affinity for Russian culture, it is based on the drama The Storm by Alexander Ostrovsky, the prolific Russian realist playwright. Káťa Kabanová had its inaugural performance at the National Theatre in Brno on 23 November 1921. Over one century after its creation, the classic Janáček work continues to grab audiences’ attention with its convoluted romantic drama and the composer’s unique musical vocabulary. Káťa Kabanová plays again in Prague this season.
As with a number of his later works, Leoš Janáček wrote Káťa Kabanová inspired by his profound romantic feelings for Kamila Stösslová, a military wife nearly 40 years his junior whom he met while on holidays in Moravia. Even though the composer’s feelings seem to have been unrequited, they fuelled a range of excellent pieces of music, and Káťa Kabanová is easily the best among them. Vincenc Červinka produced the libretto, which followed Ostrovsky’s original closely and captured the typical Russian emotion and sensitivity perfectly. Janáček’s characteristic reliance on Moravian and Bohemian folk motifs makes for a powerful, almost pan-Slavic work of art that is quite the unique operatic experience.
The plot of Káťa Kabanová centres on a love triangle between the Tichon Kabanov, a well-off merchant, his much younger wife Káťa, and her love interest Boris. Tichon’s mother, Kabanicha, is a confounding factor, showering everyone with acerbic comments and exercising tyrannical matriarchal power over the main characters. The married couple is unhappy, and Káťa can be seen daydreaming of a man who truly loves her. When Tichon leaves on business, Boris gets an opportunity to reveal his true feelings, and Káťa has to choose whether to continue playing the role of a faithful and proper wife or finally pursue her heart’s desires. A sudden storm forces the triangle out in the open, and the big reveal has dramatic consequences for everyone involved.