Natalya Romaniw, Kátya Kabanová, Grange Park

June 30, 2024 by


Grange Park Opera

From the powerhouse of a season, it would again seem Grange Park Opera is the place to hear our very finest Welsh singers, and Swansea-born Natalya Romaniw as Kátya Kabanová is the perfect example.

Add to that Sir Bryn Terfel in the double bill of Aleko and Gianni Schicchi and it would be no surprise if lovers of Welsh singers just decamped to Surrey for the season.

It would be wrong to say this is a one-person opera, but the success relies so much on the vocal strength and beauty, dramatic abilities and conviction of the soprano singing Kátya. If there is a better Kátya currently singing the role in Britain I am yet to hear it. Here Romaniw is a dramatic soprano par excellence, but she is also a fine exponent of intimate and intricate character presentation, sympathetic to her role, rich in pathos but always on the right side of melodrama.

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Susan Bullock, Adrian Thompson and Natalya Romaniw

She performs the frustrated, caged young woman who escapes her domestic prison only to be wracked with guilt and finally commits suicide in a dark, controlling but also hypocritical moral-religious community with utter conviction.

The vehicle for the drama is a David Alden production which is at best a relatively blank canvas on which the artists can perform unhindered of any director interference. Much of the action is on a simple sloping stage from designer Hannah Postlethwaite presumably as they are all about to slide into the abyss let alone the river, and similarly the Czech word východ (exit, gate) dominates. The usual trope of large shadows towering over the characters is employed by lighting designer Tim Mitchell and some sort of light/video suggests the waters of the Volga, the stormy clouds, and of course a massive lightning storm.  We also have a ruined church with a massive crucifix that is lowered to the floor which is what appears to be Last Judgement allegorical paintings.

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Natalya Romaniw

Conducted by Stephen Barlow, the Gascoigne Orchestra is in majestic form with Janácek, bringing out the full beauty and various moods and subtleties of the score. Yes, Romaniw is a powerful singer but in the intimate Grange Park auditorium, she and the orchestra work together well. Similar, we have a strong Boris, her seducer, from the tenor Thomas Atkins who has the voice and physical presence to be a convincing outlet for Kátya’s emotional and, clearly from this production, physical needs.

In contrast to our serious Kátya we have a charmingly bright and cheery Varvara from Katie Bray who finds her own fun with the appealing Vanya from the easeful tenor of Ben Hulett.

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Natalya Romaniw and Thomas Atkins

There is wonderful character acting and singing from Clive Bailey as Dikój and Susan Bullock as the ice-cold mother, Kabanicha. Ice cold, that is, until the drink kicks in and behind closed doors she and Dikój demonstrate their hypocrisy and the domineering Kabanicha transforms into a cane wielding dominatrix as the curtains close. As Tichon, Adrian Thompson sings a pathetic husband to Kátya and, after her death, returns to his mother’s complete control, having never really escaped it.

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Ben Hulett and Katie Bray

Ultimately, this is a disturbing psychological drama that requires a soprano of exceptional ability with this genre of the Slavic soul. No wonder Romaniw called her Chandos album Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul.

Until 12 July.

Main image: Natalya Romaniw

Bryn Terfel double bill at Grange Park Opera

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