Major Operas | Kátya Kabanová by Leoš Janáček | Modern Era

Kátya belongs to the final decade of Janáček’s work and was inspired by his muse, Kamila Stösslova. She was the magnificent obsession who received a steady stream of letters from the composer up until his death, some of them confirming that Kátya was written for her.

The opera was based on Ostrovsky’s drama The Storm, which concerns a woman who emerges from her repressive environment by engaging in an adulterous affair. When her conscience is unable to bear the burden of her deceit, she confesses to her husband in front of his mother, Kabanicha. The harsh environment and the title character’s humanism stand in stark contrast to one another. The music is ‘through-composed’ and unselfconsciously theatrical, the orchestration providing subtle motivic cells that develop slowly and flower magnificently. Music and drama blend seamlessly to forge a mature and profound opera.

Composed: 1919–21
Premiered: 1921, Brno
Libretto by the composer, after Alexander Nikolayevich Ostrovsky’s play The Storm

Act I

Kudrjáš is admiring the River Volga outside the Kabanov’s house. Dikoj scolds his nephew Boris for laziness. Boris explains to Kudrjáš that he and his sister will only gain their inheritance if they obey Dikoj. He wants to leave, but he must remember his sister in Moscow. Kudrjáš says that Kabanicha is as bad – a hypocrite and tyrant. Boris confesses his love for Kátya, the wife of Kabanicha’s son, Tichon. Kabanicha orders Tichon to go to Kazan. She accuses him of loving her less since he married Kátya. A wife should know her place. Tichon is too soft on her. His sister Varvara accuses him of drinking and not defending Kátya.

Kátya confesses to Varvara her dream of flying away. She used to see strange romantic visions and now she is being drawn to another man. She is horrified by Varvara’s suggestion that she should see him when Tichon goes away. She pleads with Tichon not to go or to take her with him. She begs him to make her swear to be faithful to him alone. It is time for Tichon to leave. Kabanicha makes him repeat strict instructions that Kátya must observe. She orders Tichon to kneel and kiss her, but turns on Kátya when she tries to embrace him.

Act II

Kabanicha tells Kátya that if she really loved Tichon she would display more grief. The garden is usually locked, but Varvara has found the key. Kátya wants to throw it in the river, but she hides it when she hears Kabanicha. She must see Boris. Dikoj drunkenly claims that only Kabanicha understands him. He describes how he once thrashed a peasant and then begged forgiveness. Kabanicha tells him to get better manners.

Kudrjáš is waiting for Varvara in the garden. Boris enters, explaining that he has been summoned. He has met Kátya only once, but he cannot help loving her. Varvara tells Boris that Kátya is coming and then disappears with Kudrjáš. At first Kátya cannot overcome her guilt and tells Boris to stay away....

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