Sunday, April 10, 2011

Kát'a Marthalerova

Katia Kabanova, Opéra Garnier in Paris, March 8 2011

In front of Opéra Garnier - minutes before the beginning of Kat'a Kabanova, a.k.a. Marthalerova

Christoph Marthaler ..... director
Tomas Netopil ..... conductor

Angela Denoke ..... Kát'a
Vincent Le Texier ..... Saviol Dikoy
Jane Henschel ..... Kabanicha
Donald Kaasch ..... Tichon Kabanov
Jorma Silvasti ..... Boris Grigorievitch
Ales Briscein ..... Kudriach
Andrea Hill ..... Varvara

Orchestre et Choeur de l’Opéra national de Paris

Ah Christoph Marthaler... His theatrical genius is very well known, and its incompatibility with the traditionalists' taste in opera is very well known too. He has that extraordinary skill to pass the message that does not appear obvious immediately. He does not take himself too seriously and tries constantly to get across the message that nothing is what it seems to be, and in the process he manages to tackle serious and highly nontrivial questions.

If you see a few of his productions you will recognize his style that often borders with a mockery towards the society he tries to depict, but beneath that form there is at least one serious story by which Marthaler tries to understand that almost absurd weakness in individuals that makes them prefer to abide by the social rules even when they make their lives miserable.  It's the kind of analysis that you would like to understand when talking about maltreated women who decide to stay in their rotten marriages. Marthaler is never judgmental about that. His mockery is directed towards the social rules and not to the human weaknesses.

This production was first presented at the Salzburger Festspiele in 1998 (also available on DVD), and since then the show has been rerun 5 times in Paris. This 6th revival was my first time to see the show and I loved it.

The story is set in the 70's, in an apartment building for low income families. The proximity of neighbors means also the loss of privacy, but since the humans even in the most dehumanized conditions manage to have their little secrets, their little 'world',  Marthaler helps by placing a large closet near one of the walls on the stage. That closet is used to make the characters communicate with their hidden-selves, their desires, their little loves, even their hidden bottle...

The intrusive neighbors are all over the place -- particularly on the surrounding windows -- observing every move of other people living in the building, and especially keeping an eye on a young married woman, Kat'a, whose husband is gone on business trip. The story is then relatively easy to carry on and a parallel with Wozzeck becomes apparent.

Kat'a is stuck in a marriage with a man too weak to stand to his bigoted mother who sticks like a snake to Kata. In that grayishness the young women dreams of a better life, and falls in love with Boris, a man who declares his love for her. That love gave her courage to step up and take her own life in hands, and when her husband comes back from business trip she confesses what has happened and leaves the home. The tragic turn for her will come from Boris, who --instead of hooking up with Kat'a-- decides to obey his uncle and leave to another city. Faced with "impossibility to live" Kat'a prefers die. Her husband will try to rescue her but to no avail.

In the court of the building Marthaler and Anna Viebrock placed a small malfunctioning (dry) fountain, in which entangled lies a dead swan -- died while waiting for water to run. The parallel with Kat'a's fate is more than obvious, and eventually she dies precisely on that same fountain (instead of drowning, as it stands in the libretto)

Suicide of Kat'a Kabanova (note the dead swan between her feet)

To make this drama work you need excellent actors, and boy were we nicely served!
Angela Denoke is a marvelous singer and brilliant actress. She sang in this production many times and does really a fantastic job in portraying Kabanova.
Jane Henschel is not only the best Klytemnestra around, but she also delivers a phenomenal dramatic portrayal of the nasty, bigoted, judgmental Kabanicha. Jorma Silvasti and Donald Kaasch are excellent in their roles of Kata's lover and husband respectively.

My big surprise were the brilliant singers who made the other couple in the drama: Andrea Hill and  Ales Briscein. Fantastic, lively, powerful singing -- great scenic presence that brought liveliness to the life in that gray neighborhood [that's precisely what Marthaler wanted them to do -- love and joy happen everywhere]. I hope we'll have more opportunities to see and listen to these two brilliant artists perform more often on big opera stages.

Finally a few words about the orchestra and this amazing young conductor who I was very impressed with in Dresden - Tomas Netopil. I always fight the idea that the conductors from the country of the composer should be given preference (for many hopefully obvious reasons). That should not be the criterion but I guess it does enter the equation when we talk about Janacek and his sens for drama that the native speaker can resonate with, recognize properly and convey the mood, nuances... through music. That was a very subtle performance and the Paris Opera orchestra was at their definite best.

Three more production photos:

Varvara and Kat'a

Kabanicha and Tichon

Kabanicha in her 'den'

A few curtain call photos (these are mine):

Angela Denoke and Tomas Netopil

Ales Briscien, Andrea Hill, and Jane Henschel

Angela Denoke between her two men: Jorma Silvasti and Donald Kaasch

and finally a short video-excerpt from DVD of this production, filmed in Salzburg 1998:

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