The story tells of a woman driven to despair and suicide by her husband and monstrous mother-in-law.
Katya Kabanova takes place in a small, isolated Russian town on the banks of the ever-present Volga river. In this repressive society in which rules and appearances are all that matter, Katya feels trapped. Unhappily married to Tichon, who is dominated by his bitter and controlling mother Kabanicha, she longs to escape. When Tichon is sent away on business, temptation proves impossible to resist. Encouraged by the family’s foster daughter, Varvara, Katya begins a passionate affair with Boris, who has loved her from afar. However, when Tichon returns (amidst a violent storm), Katya can no longer face what she has done, and her mind begins to unravel, drifting further and further towards the river…
Opera in 3 acts
Sung in Czech
About 1 hours 45 min + intervals
The Russian town of Kalinov on the shores of the Volga River in the 1860s
Vána Kudrjás admires the view of the Volga River, which amuses the more literal-minded housekeeper of the adjoining Kabanov estate. Two men approach, Dikoj and his nephew, Boris Grigorjevic, where Dikoj is berating Boris. Dikoj learns that Kabanicha, the Kabanov family matriarch, is not at home. Dikoj leaves, and Boris explains to Vána Kudrjás why he tolerates the abuse: his parents are dead, and to be able collect his inheritance, he must respect his uncle no matter what his uncle says to him. Boris also tells Vána Kudrjás that he is secretly in love with Káťa, the young wife of Tichon. Káťa appears and Kabanicha reproaches her son Tichon – Kata's husband – for his inattentiveness. Tichon and Káťa try to calm her down, but Kabanicha will have none of it, telling Tichon that he spoils Káťa. Tichon complains to Varvara, the family's foster daughter, who rebukes him for retreating into drinking more than defending Káťa.
In the house, Káťa tells Varvara of her happy childhood, and dreams of having a man who truly loves her. Tichon enters to say good-bye, as he is journeying to Kazan on business, for Kabanicha. Káťa asks to accompany him or for him not to go, but he insists. Káťa then asks him to make her swear an oath to speak to no strangers during his absence, which puzzles Tichon. Kabanicha announces that Tichon must go, but not before instructing Káťa how to behave in his absence. Tichon dutifully says that Káťa must treat Kabanicha like her own mother and always act properly. He bows to Kabanicha and kisses her and Kát'a before he departs.
The women are working on embroidery. Kabanicha criticizes Káťa for not appearing more sorrowful at Tichon's absence. After Kabanicha leaves, Varvara shows Káťa the key to the far part of the garden. Varvara intends to meet Vána, her lover, there. She hints at the same suggestion for Káťa, and puts the key in her hand. Káťa is hesitant, but then surrenders to fate and will meet Boris. She steps outside as evening comes on. Kabanicha reappears with Dikoj, who is drunk and complaining that people take advantage of his softhearted nature. However, Kabanicha chastises him.
Vána Kudrjás is waiting for Varvara in the garden. Boris then unexpectedly appears, after receiving a message to go there. Varvara arrives, and she and Vána go for a walk by the river. Káťa then appears, and Boris declares his love for her. She is at first worried about social ruin, but finally she reciprocates, confessing her secret feelings for him. They embrace and themselves leave for a walk. Vána and Varvara return, as she explains her precautions in case Kabanicha suddenly appears. Káťa and Boris are heard in wordless, ecstatic duet as Vána and Varvara say that it is time to return home.
Ten days later
Vána Kudrjás and Kuligin are strolling near the river when an approaching storm causes them to take shelter in a ruined building. Other people join them, including Dikoj. Vána tries to calm Dikoj with scientific explanations about a new invention, the lightning rod. However, this only angers Dikoj, who insists that lightning is not caused by electricity but is the punishment from God. The rain dies down, and people start to leave the shelter. Vána meets Boris and Varvara. Varvara says that Tichon has returned, and Káťa is very agitated. Kabanicha arrives with Tichon and Káťa. The storm returns, and people assume initially that this is what upsets Káťa. However, she confesses to Tichon in front of everyone her assignation with Boris during her husband's absence. Then she runs out into the storm.
Evening approaches after the storm has ended. Tichon and a search party are looking for Káťa. At first among the party, Varvara and Vána then decide to leave the village for Moscow and start a new life. They leave, and as the searchers continue, Káťa appears. She knows that her confession has dishonoured her and humiliated Boris. She feels tormented and wants to meet Boris one more time. Boris appears and sees her, and the two embrace. Boris says that his uncle is sending him away to another town, but asks her what will become of her. As her sanity deteriorates, she first begs him to be allowed to accompany him, then insists that she could not and bids him farewell; he leaves in sorrow. After thinking of how nature will continue to flourish over her grave, Káťa throws herself into the river. Kuligin sees this from the far bank and calls for help. Tichon appears, followed by Kabanicha. Tichon tries to help Káťa but is restrained by Kabanicha; he blames her for Káťa's suicide. Dikoj appears with Káťa's body and lays her on the ground. Tichon cries over the body as, without any emotion, Kabanicha thanks the bystanders—or, as often done, the audience—for their help.
Savël Prokofjevic Dikój – Bass
Boris Grigorjevič - Tenor (lyric)
Marfa Ignatěvna Kabanová (Kabanicha) - Mezzo-soprano/Contralto (dramatic)
Widow of a rich merchant
Tichon Ivanyč Kabanov - Tenor (spinto)
Káťa Kabanova (Katerina) - Soprano (spinto)
Váňa Kudrjaš - Tenor
Varvara - Mezzo-soprano
Kuligin - Baritone
Friend of Vána Kudrjaš
Glaša - Mezzo-soprano
Fekluša - Mezzo-soprano
Place of birth: Hukvaldy, Moravia
Place of death: Ostrava, Czech Republic
Leoš Janáček was a Czech composer, musical theorist, folklorist, publicist and teacher. He was inspired by Moravian and other Slavic folk music to create an original, modern musical style.
Until 1895 he devoted himself mainly to folkloristic research. While his early musical output was influenced by contemporaries such as Antonín Dvořák, his later, mature works incorporate his earlier studies of national folk music in a modern, highly original synthesis, first evident in the opera Jenůfa, which was premiered in 1904 in Brno. The success of Jenůfa (often called the "Moravian national opera") at Prague in 1916 gave Janáček access to the world's great opera stages.
Janáček's later works are his most celebrated. They include operas such as Káťa Kabanová and The Cunning Little Vixen, the Sinfonietta, the Glagolitic Mass, the rhapsody Taras Bulba, two string quartets, and other chamber works. Along with Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana, he is considered one of the most important Czech composers.
“Submit to love faithfully and it gives a person joy. It intoxicates, it envelops, it isolates. It creates fragrance in the air, ardour from coldness, it beautifies everything around it.”
He was fascinated with animal sounds.
Most prominent operas
The libretto was written by Vincenc Červinka, based on The Storm, a play by Alexander Ostrovsky.
4 3 3 3 - 4 3 3 1
timp, perc, harp, celesta, viola d'amore, strings
The opera premiered at the National Theatre Brno in 1921.
Janácek dedicated his sixth opera to Kamila Stösslová with whom he had become deeply infatuated. His portrait of Katya also seems to be based on Kamila.