Kát’a Kabanová, Opera by L. Janáček
Artists of all kinds are often motivated by love to create some of their best work. This is certainly true of Leoš Janáček who, at the age of 67, created Kat’a Kabanová, his first ‘mature’ opera and the one stage work most often associated with him. He was driven by his obsession with the young Kamila Strösslová, a married woman nearly four decades younger than him. Although the love affair never got far, it fuelled Janáček’s creative process and led him to create his best-known dramatic opera. Kat’a Kabanová now conquers the stage of Teatro dell’Opera di Roma with traditional Slavic flair.
Janáček and his librettist Vincenc Červinka adapted The Storm, a drama infused with strong social criticism by Russian playwright Alexander Ostrovsky. The story is a classic love triangle between Tichon, a goal-oriented merchant and inattentive husband; Kat’a, his young wife who feels neglected, constantly criticised and in dire need of true love; and Boris, a friend of the family who starts a dangerous liaison with Kat’a. As real-life storms rage on and off the stage, so does the inner emotional turmoil climb to an explosive boiling point.
While composing Kat’a Kabanová, Janáček let his creativity take flight. It is evident in his unbridled melodies and Czech-Moravian inflexions that he was celebrating his own newly found love. The minor passages, in turn, may well reveal his fear that nothing might come out of his affection for Kamila. Ultimately, the composer’s affair did not materialise, and his feelings remained mostly unreturned. Nevertheless, through Kat’a and Boris, Janáček got a taste of what could have been, and his dramatic score reflects the intense emotions he was going through. The composer’s own heartaches and desires freely flow into Kat’a Kabanová, an exemplary illustration of the hot Slavic temperament and knack for dramatism. Audiences at Rome’s Teatro Costanzi are in for a wild, stormy ride.