Leoš Janáček’s opera “Káťa Kabanová” at the Metropolitan Opera in NY, 30 years on

Káťa Kabanová in Metropolitan Opera, photo: archive of Metropolitan Opera New York

Leoš Janáček is among the twenty most-played opera composers in the world. Even so, one of his major works, “Káťa Kabanová”, was not included on the programme of the New York Metropolitan Opera until seventy years after its premiere at the National Theatre in Brno. On February 25, 1991, to be exact.

“Káťa Kabanová” is an opera in three acts, based on The Storm, a play by Alexander Ostrovsky. Janáček’s opera was also largely inspired by his love for a married woman nearly forty years his junior, named Kamila Stösslová.

The staging of Janáček’s operas in New York is an interesting story in itself. “Her Stepdaughter”, more commonly known abroad as “Jenůfa”, was first mentioned during Janáček's lifetime in 1924, and curiously, from today's point of view, that mention was in German. That is, neither in translation into English, nor in the original language (Czech), as is customary in opera today.

Káťa Kabanová in Metropolitan Opera,  photo: archive of Metropolitan Opera New York

But while it took quite a while until “Káťa Kabanová” was performed in New York, on the other hand, it avoided the disasters associated with the performance there of another Janáček opera, “The Makropulos Affair”, in 1996. The premiere was cancelled just minutes after it started, after the tenor in the role of Vítek died on stage after a terrifying fall from a ladder. The second performance, a few days later also had to be cancelled due to a terrible snowstorm in the city ...

The Metropolitan Opera later also performed “From the House of the Dead”, but have yet to stage “The Cunning Little Vixen”, which is also quite popular. In any case, last year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the new production of “Káta Kabanová” was cancelled: good and bad luck still seem to accompany Janáček in New York.

The New York performance of “Káťa Kabanová” marked the debut in the title role of Gabriela Beňačková, a Czech lyric soprano of Slovak origin, under the baton of Charles Mackerras, an expert on Janáček’s music.