Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The Lion in Winter

July 02, 2007

Janice Watson, Felicity Palmer, and Linda Tuvas
Photo: Bill Cooper/ROH 2007

So what becomes a legend most? Certainly a bigger crowd than the not-nearly-capacity audience that assembled for Monday’s performance of Katya Kabonova at the Royal Opera House under the baton of Sir Charles Mackerras. Which is an utter shame. Hearing Mackerras lead the Royal Opera House Orchestra was a joy. He made the score come alive in ways that perhaps no one else could, given his years of experience and intimate knowledge of the score. It comes as no surprise considering that Mackerras almost single-handedly introduced everyone outside of Czechoslovakia to this great 20th-century composer starting in the 1950s and made legendary recordings of all Janácek’s major music theater works.

The staging is a revival of a 1994 Trevor Nunn production that is attractive and engaging if not especially radical or groundbreaking. It has some interesting elements including live horses on stage, a fallen cross the heroine jumps to her death from, and a giant lace trimmed white sheer curtain used at points for sewing material. It works well for the most part, although it can be a bit rusty. An onstage scaffolding collapses during a thunderstorm in Act III, and is usually the case with scripted collapses on-stage it look a little too unnatural to completely ignore. But why be picky?

Janice Watson played the lead and was solid. This is saying a lot from me given that I’m still trying to wash her lackluster Salome from Santa Fe last year out of my mind. Her tone could be harsh, but was rarely so and she was able to keep Kata’s slow mental unraveling intact. The supporting cast was more than adequate, including Felicity Palmer, Toby Spence, and Liora Grodnikaite, who substituted as Varvara for Linda Tuvas who was out sick. Musically, it was a superior performance and I would strongly encourage anyone not familiar with Janácek or Mackerras to take advantage of the final performance of Kabanova on Thursday July 5 at the Royal Opera House. Even though I hope he continues to prosper and perform for many years to come, as Mackerras enters his 80s there may be only so many opportunities to hear him conduct some of the composers he is most associated with.

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