There is a new production of Leoš Janáček's Kát'a Kabanová at the Palais Garnier in Paris, conducted by Sylvain Cambreling and staged by Christoph Marthaler (with sets and costumes by Anna Viebrock and lights by Olaf Winter). (Well, it's new to Paris, having been created for the Salzburg Festival in 1998 and having gone next to the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse, which coproduced. See this recent post on the reopening of the Toulouse Opera.) Alain Lompech reviewed (Une "Katia Kabanova" déchirante dans une prison à ciel ouvert, November 4) the production for Le Monde:
The curtain goes up. Facing the sumptuous house of the Opéra de Paris is Anna Viebrock's unusual set, the courtyard of a decrepit building, a sort of concentration-like public housing apartment building like the former Soviet block countries had. Displaced against their will, supposedly to bring them comfort, country people lived there, uprooted. They had to build the man of tomorrow. The façade is pierced with windows. We see people living there, keeping track of each other, as in a village or in dictatorial societies. A realistic set by its precision of detail, with orange trashcans, lamps, window shutters, even the large bedroom open on the square, wallpapered in dirty blue, and the bed covered with a fur comforter, near which a crucifix is hung, underneath a tapestry depicting a deer. [...]From Eric Dahan's article («Kátia» s'assouplit au palais Garnier, November 2) in Libération:
The casting is first-rate. True actor-singers it would be vain to try to separate from one another, even if Jane Henschel's Kabanicha is more troubling than normal. The orchestra and the Opéra chorus followed Cambreling's direction, which was lacking some bite but also took the time to dream.
It was the shocker of the 1998 Salzburg Festival. In the "shoebox" of the Kleines Festspielhaus, imposing soprano Angela Denoke imposed herself as the greatest Kát'a Kabanová of her generation. A Kát'a who was neither neurotic nor the prisoner of some social drama: a "liberated" woman, in a prefeminist sense, who refuses to remain a frustrated wife, asphyxiated by convention, and who prefers to succeed in death over failing in life. Created by the bad boy of the Swiss theater, Christoph Marthaler, this production was unveiled to Parisians on Thursday at the Palais Garnier. The premiere was much anticipated and honored by the presence of writer Milan Kundera, among others.The mini-review from Agence France-Presse ("Katia Kabanova" de Janacek : de Salzbourg à Paris, October 29):
Poignant crudity. Given without intermission, this Kát'a Kabanová runs under two hours, in an unusual set of a public housing courtyard with leprous walls and a clogged fountain. Marthaler, by choosing to remove the Volga from the libretto by making it appear only as a postcard thumbtacked to the wall, has played the verismo card (in which tradition Kát'a Kabanová belongs), while simultaneously destroying all temptation toward realism. In Salzburg, the no-exit was stifling and the flowered wallpaper symbolized the hell of a lower middle class as mediocre as that in Brno at the start of the 20th century as well as the bedroom communities of recent communism. On the larger stage of the Palais Garnier the staging breathes less nervously, and the effect of the novelty of Marthaler's esthetic is stamped out a little.
There is no hoping for a better Kát'a, vocally supernatural, than Angela Denoke. Riper, more supple, more poised, and gifted with a tone that has improved in warmth and richness, the German soprano sings Kát'a somewhere between the expressionism of Marie (in Wozzeck) and the arioso of Marietta (in Die tote Stadt). Marthaler was honored on Thursday with boos from one part of the audience, who did not appreciate his derisive humor.
Former director of the Salzburg Festival and stage impressario, Belgian Gérard Mortier, now director of the Opéra de Paris, wanted to show it to the Paris audience, all the more since the latter has not yet seen the work of designer Christoph Marthaler, known more in France for his work in the theater.François Delétraz's little article (Opéras philosophiques, November 5) for Le Figaro Magazine says that Marthaler
has created a very realistic design, and you could easily believe you are watching a Brecht play in the Berlin Volksbühne. Besides the façade of the dilapidated building, there is in the center of the courtyard a fountain that runs when it wants to: a uniquely sinister set for this family drama. All the work's possible dreams are gummed up to create a world that is glacial, hyperrealistic, and devoid of poetry.Christian Merlin interviewed Marthaler (Christoph Marthaler et l'amour de la nature, October 28) for Le Figaro:
How did you conceive the idea for this building courtyard where you enclose the action?The cast includes Angela Denoke (Kát'a), Roland Bracht (Dikoy), Jane Henschel (Kabanicha), Christoph Homberger (Tichon), and David Kuebler (Boris).
I often use the same method: I took a trip, with conductor Sylvain Cambreling, the designer Anna Viebrock, my usual team, to a place tied to the action, in order to impregnate us with it. For Kát'a, we went to Brno, Janáček's fatherland, where we took a lot of photos. There, I was struck by the fact that, beside the folk-like houses and the beautiful countryside full of local color, there were these public housing apartment buildings where you hear and see everything the neighbors do, like in villages in earlier days. As for the fountain, it exists: it is located in front of the Brno theater!
So you are making the action real?
Transposing would be better than making real. I chose the 1960s because I remain convinced that, in the theater, you need a certain distance in order to reflect on the action and put it in perspective: if I had placed the action in our own time, we would have missed that distance.