On The Level: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Katya Kabanova…

Sometimes you leave a theatre knowing that what you have just witnessed was something special. That was undoubtedly the case with Scottish Opera’s opening night of Janáček’s Katya Kabanova. It’s one of those rare productions where everything comes together to make something magical. The score, the story, the musicians, the singing, the acting (often overlooked in opera), the lighting, the costumes, and the set (& boy, what a set!) were all in complete and wonderful harmony to create a world so enthralling that to witness it felt a privilege.

Does that sound over the top? I urge you to go and see for yourself and tell me I’m wrong – and you should as it’s an experience to be shared as widely as possible. Let me try and break it down further, for my own benefit as much as for yourself. First, the story. Although I write about and review Scottish writing on this site my first loves are the 19th century Russians, and although Janáček is Czech, Katya Kabanova is planted firmly in Mother Russia.

If you know the works of Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Chekhov, Tolstoy, (or if you have seen the Woody Allen film Love & Death), you’ll be familiar with the themes of unrequited or thwarted love leading to tragedy, existential crisis, familial machinations (mothers-in-laws often get a bad press) and the fickle and often infuriating nature of man. New industry is often in conflict with the old, and new values also challenge the status quo. Katya Kabanova captures all of this completely. There are even fields of wheat on stage – a recurring and significant image in Russian literature – and like those classic novels Janáček, and Scottish Opera, have created a world in which to immerse yourself.

If I was to say that this is an opera which works on many levels then I mean you to take that metaphorically, but also literally. The set is dominated by a two-way bridge which moves and morphs throughout, not unlike an Escher picture brought to life. If there were ever a theatre adaptation of Iain Banks’ novel The Bridge then they need look no further for inspiration for the centre piece. Reminiscent of H.R. Giger’s drawings for the Nostromo spaceship in the first Alien movie, with the same heft and otherworldliness, it made me think of the theatre of Robert LePage and I can give no higher praise than that.

Beneath the bridge are the marshlands and mud-fields where the hard work is done, assignations are made, and people come to lose themselves while those higher up go busily about their day and are usually too busy to notice what is beneath them. Visually, when put together, it’s an incredible achievement, so much so that at times you could forget that what you are watching is not on a screen but on stage. This is opera as spectacle, but it never threatens to overshadow the characters and performers. Indeed, it seems to bring out the best in them.

Although the leads were superb, especially Laura Wilde as Kátya Kabanová and Patricia Bardon as Kabanicha, this was an ensemble piece as every member of cast played their role, and when married to the music what was created was an all-out assault on the senses in the best possible way. When a particular dramatic event happened near the end there was a collective intake of breath from an audience who were rapt throughout.

All of the above is really just a long and detailed way of saying that this is a production not to miss. It is another example of Scottish Opera being a company to treasure as whether it’s their Opera Highlights show in Victoria Hall in Dunblane (as they are tonight) or something with the scale and ambition of Kátya Kabanová they always deliver. Scottish Opera are at the top of their game right now, and we should be thankful for that.

Thanks to Scottish Opera for the use of these images – Credit James Glossop

Tsars On Sunday: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s From Russia With Love…

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As Boney M once exclaimed, “Oh those Russians”! Although this is Scots Whay Hae! my first literary loves are 19th century Russian writers, and I am a little obsessed with the culture of that place and time. This being the case, Scottish Opera and the National Opera Studio’s From Russia With Love, the latest of The Sunday Series of concerts. With libretti adapted from writers such as Pushkin and Gogol, and music from Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Mussorgsky, it was the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

The Prelude to ‘The Golden Cockerel’ set the tone with a caricatured Donald Trump, in the exagerated style of Terry Gilliam, on stage lending things a modern and satirical twist, something which carried on throughout. There were visceral scenes of torture reminiscent of a scene from Reservoir Dogs (‘Kashchey The Immortal’), references to #MeToo (‘The Bear’), and demonic possession in the style of the Ringu films, or even The Exorcist (‘Khovanshchina’). You may have an idea of what opera is, but Scottish Opera make you think again, regularly proving that they are one of the most innovative and impressive companies around. Continue reading

Judge Dread: A Review Of Philip Glass’s The Trial…

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It’s difficult to think of a more apt time for Philip Glass’s take on Franz Kafka’s infamous 1925 novel The Trial to arrive in theatres. When a new American President is promising to refill Guantanamo Bay with inmates based on who they are rather than what they’ve done, the story of Josef K, a man who is arrested on his 30th birthday for a never specified crime, is one which carries a warning which will already be too late for some.

Glass’s ‘Trial’ is a co-production between Scottish Opera, Music Theatre Wales, The Royal Opera and Theater Magdeburg, and it is a great advert for European cultural collaboration. It opens in Josef K’s bedroom, a sparse set which will be subtly and inventively used throughout. Josef is awoken by two agents who appear to be the evil doppelgängers of Herge’s Thompson Twins from the Tintin books, with their bowler hats and wry moustaches. They are here to arrest him, but cannot tell him what for or who has accused him, something that Josef, after initial shock, takes lightly at first. But as the year unfolds, and his ‘trial’ begins, the seriousness of his situation begins to dawn. Is he an innocent man? Kafka asks which one of us can honestly claim to be, and that is part of the terror of this tale. Continue reading