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Kat'a Kabanova

Discussion in 'Music & Music Streaming Services' started by Todd_A, Sep 18, 2005.

  1. Todd_A


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    Today I had the distinct pleasure of listening to Charles Mackerras’ 1997 recording of Janacek’s Kat’a Kabanova, with the great Gabriela Benackova in the title role. Yes, she’s too old too play the part, and yes her voice has darkened, and yes, she sounds a bit hard in some of the high notes, but man, does she own the piece! To say her Czech is idiomatic is to understate matters: she almost makes one understand every word. And most important, her ability to convey the fragility, idealism, and tragic core of the heroine is unsurpassed. Whether she sings of longing and conflicted emotions in the first act or of guilt and sorrow in the final act, her precise, natural, and impeccably nuanced singing is the real deal. Emotion is conveyed without melodrama. Benackova becomes the character.

    The supporting cast is pretty much that: an assemblage there to support the lead and the conductor. Dagmar Peckova gives the strongest performance as Varvara, as I expected (she’s good in Mahler’s 3rd under Nagano, too), singing with technical command and appropriately youthful ardor and impetuousness. Alas, Eva Randova’s Kabanicha is rather weak, not exactly inspiring fear when excoriating her daughter-in-law, and not imposing when dictating to the slimy Dikoi. The rest of the cast falls in between these two, mostly on the strong-ish side. To be certain, the all-Slavic cast sings with fine command of Janacek’s writing.

    That leaves Chuck and the Czech Philharmonic. I’ll just say it: the Czechs are better here than the Vienna Philharmonic. Yes, the Wieners play more beautifully in Chuck’s first recording, but I think the Czechs obviously know what this music is about. They can and do play with aching beauty when needed – most notably whenever Kat’a’s theme is played – but the slightly coarser wind sound and the comfortably dissonant string playing all combine to bring the most out of the piece. Mackerras’ command of the score is absolute. Aided by an obviously muti-miked recording, enlightening details abound, and Mackerras’ ability to perfectly time absolutely everything is amazing. He brings all involved to towering, swelling crescendos, yet he knows just when to back off. Elsewhere, he knows just when to bring in an instrument or ensemble, and his timing with the singers is flawless. As a recording this outdistances his earlier effort. And his earlier recording is one of my favorite opera recordings. Amazing stuff, it should be considered a must-listen to fans of this masterpiece.

    (Lucky me, I also picked up Ms Benackova’s 1977 recording of Jenufa, so that’s on the itinerary for later in the week.)

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