In Olivia Fuchs’s Opera Holland Park production that was highly acclaimed in 2009, and which now returns to join a cumulatively brilliant season at the summer opera house, the river is a big character. And in Yannis Thavoris's design, the water, a suggestive field of blue, is everywhere, the cast picking their way across boardwalks, hemmed in, as they seem to be in their whole lives in this suffocating rural community.
As ever at OHP, the chorus of onlookers, bloodless despite their rich crimson buttoned-up attire, only their prejudices as deep-dyed, observes, comments and dematerialises with deftness and purpose. Ann Mason as Tichon's iron mother, while not always completely audible on this expansive stage, is the most buttoned-up of all, a bombazine bundle of envy and spite.
Also looking on – in a sense he represents us: more modern, more liberated – is the amused Kudrjaš, sung with great character by Paul Curievici (I hope we see him again next year), and his lover Varvara, a sparkling Clare Presland. It sets the tone for the piece that it opens with Kudrjaš observing the tyrannical uncle Dikój, the formidable Mikhail Svetlov.
When Kat'a's husband is despatched to the city on business, his absence unleashes her thwarted sexuality: Swedish soprano Julia Sporsén, empassioned and lyrical in the title role, and Tichon, fast-rising tenor Nicky Spence, reduced by his bullying mother to a quivering booby, have one last painful encounter before Kat'a is left to discover the delights of an unlocked gate and Boris, in the shape of Peter Hoare – Hoare and Spence both fresh from their rivalry in the same composer's Jenufa at Grange Park Opera and as impressive as ever.
The Storm by Alexander Ostrovsky, which inspired the piece, is both literal and metaphorical, and there is a relentless sense of doom in the driving orchestral score, the City of London Sinfonia a little uneven under Sian Edwards (but this may well be more about geography – the orchestra is placed high and wide at OHP – than musicianship).
But nothing prepares you for the closing moments, Lear-like in their pathos, Spence's Tichon finding his authority and independence just too late to save his wife.
Kát'a Kabanová is sung in Czech with English surtitles. Tickets are still available for 12, 21, 26 and 28 July
|What||Kát'a Kabanová review, Opera Holland Park|
|Where||Opera Holland Park, Stable Yard, Holland Park, London , W8 6LU | MAP|
|Nearest tube||High Street Kensington (underground)|
15 Jul 17 – 28 Jul 17, five performances
|Price||£18 - £70|
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|