Such a bittersweet finale to tonight's "Kat'a Kabanova" in Covent
Garden: Charles MacKerras smiling broadly as he is getting an ovation
onstage, but unsteady as he walks and stands, supported on his right by
Janice Watson, on the left by Felicity Palmer - the evening's superb
Kat'a and Kabanicha, respectively.
The sadness is in the unavoidable signs of age, the great maestro
physically faltering after two hours of holding in his hands firmly the
orchestra, soloists, chorus for a transcendently beautiful reading of
this ineffable score. But how sweet it is, what a privilege to hear a
master still at the height of his power 56 years after he conducted the
first "Kat'a" - indeed the first complete Janacek opera in London.
Ever since a long-ago fantastic "Butterfly" - of all things - in San
Francisco, I've been clear about MacKerras' universal sorcery, but as
is well known, his Janacek is truly unique, extraordinary. And so it
was tonight, at the premiere of yet another revival series of the (Grimm)
fairytale design of Maria Bjornson, now in Trevor Nunn's direction.
Fascinating staging, solid direction, all-around first-class singing...
but all upon a miraculous infrastructure of MacKerras' orchestra, of
lights, colors, gossamer shading, sounds of yearning, wistfulness,
passion, despair. Not delicate, but quietly beautiful, the music under
MacKerras' direction never seemed to reach above mezzo-forte - it didn't
Watson and Palmer both were at their best, voices soaring, their
dramatic presence undeniable. There were no weak links in the cast.
Chris Merritt, who has had his share of problems in recent years, was a
reliable, effective Kabanov. Toby Spence (Vana), Kurt Streit (Boris),
Oleg Bryjak (a particularly disagreeable Dikoj), and Linda Tuvas as
Varvara were all serving MacKerras and Janacek extraordinarily well,
along with the mostly out of sight, but very much present chorus.
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