Janáček: Katya Kabanova

Katya Kabanova, about a woman who embarks on an affair while her husband is away (and the subsequent heartbreaking consequences), is among the most dramatically direct of Janáček’s operas. Composed between 1919 and 1921, Katya Kabanova reflects the Czech composer’s own emotional turmoil when, back in 1917, the married 63-year-old composer fell for 26-year-old Kamila Stösslová. Though his obsession was unrequited, Janáček identified Kamila with Katya, firing one of his most beautiful creations, colored with a passionate and tautly composed score. In this electrically charged concert recording, the London Symphony Orchestra and conductor Simon Rattle is joined by soloists including tenor Simon O’Neill as Boris, Katya’s love; tenor Andrew Staples as Tichon, Katya’s weak-willed husband; and, as Katya Kabanova herself, the soprano Amanda Majeski. “Katya’s in this marriage that is extremely unhappy,” Majeski tells Apple Music Classical. “Her husband drinks, and they are both stifled by an overbearing mother-in-law, who Katya cannot please in any way.” Added to this, suggests Majeski, is Katya’s unique character makeup that sets her apart within a closed society. “She vibrates on a frequency that’s maybe a little different from everyone else in the town,” adds Majeski, “and she’s a woman who’s beautiful, but who doesn’t quite fit in.” As a result of her tryst with Boris, Katya feels unbearable guilt and shame which emerges in music of similarly overwhelming power and a perfect demonstration of Janáček’s dramatic skill. “Towards the end of Act III, after Katya’s confession to the community, there is this moment of complete isolation,” says Majeski. “There’s a desolation and a pain in the music, and the actual space in the music becomes incredibly important. So, it’s not just about the notes, but the space between the notes, too.” Alongside the tension, there’s also great tenderness in Janáček’s music—the duet between Varvara and Kudryash, for instance, almost has the feeling of a lullaby. “The sweetness of the music, the lightness of it, the purity of that love,” says Majeski, “it makes the lack of purity in Katya’s relationships all the more heartbreaking.” And in Act I, Janáček’s fluttering, soaring music accompanies Katya’s dreams to fly. “I used to be such a free spirit,” she sings, “but here my spirit has shriveled up.” That moment describes in a nutshell what Katya is feeling, says Majeski: “there’s definitely a sense of a religious ecstasy.” As this performance was done in concert (no stage directions, costumes, props etc), Janáček’s detailed orchestrations and vocal scoring were captured in scintillating, close-miked detail. “A concert experience is like an open terrain,” says Majeski. “Yes, you’re interacting with the characters, but they’re not dressed as their characters, they’re in concert dress. And so you feel a little bit more free to explore the music in the moment. In fact, the music and the colors become much more important because the audience isn’t looking at action.” And in the case of Janáček, experiencing and relishing the music itself in all its glorious detail is key to enjoying the opera to the full. “Anything that my character is feeling, whether elation, passion, anxiety, or panic is just right there on the surface, and in the music,” says Majeski, “which is why I think audiences respond so well to it. Janáček’s music is accessible and so clear.”

Select a country or region

Africa, Middle East, and India

Asia Pacific


Latin America and the Caribbean

The United States and Canada