KATYA KABANOVA | London, Royal Opera House

Leoš Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová is a study in suppression. Conducted by Edward Gardner, the music really does resemble the turbulent currents of the Volga, which Janáček said “flowed from his pen” when writing it — and in Richard Jones’ brand new production, the scenes, like the harmonic currents, find themselves ebbing and flowing in and out of dissonance.

Amanda Majeski’s Kát’a is well drawn and beautifully sung, particularly as the love-triangle between alcoholic husband (Andrew Staples), unfaithful wife (Majeski) and vengeful mother in law (Susan Bickley), really starts to crackle. Janáček’s tonal potpourri comes into its own when the two young lovers, Valvara (played with saucy exuberance by Emily Edmonds), and Vána (Andrew Tortise), become comic foils to the doomed ‘extracurricular’ lovers.

It is in the third act that this production bares its teeth. Comic, tragic, banal, and profound in delicate shifts, the dizzying emotions of the music are set off by impressively lifelike storm effects, which those with photosensitive epilepsy may consider sitting out. Hot on the heels of this is Kát’a’s public confession/humiliation and a moving colloquy with the Volga as she contemplates suicide.

In the final scene, we see Susan Bickley’s pitch-perfect mother-in-law, whirling around the married couple, trying to prize Tichon’s fingers off Kát’a, like a dead fish caught on the line. In another’s hands, the character may veer into caricature, but here it is wonderfully pitched. In moments like these, we see this work done full justice: funny, hopeless, tragic, eccentric, and at times extremely powerful.

Experience Janáček’s tragedy until 26 February 2019.

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