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Katya Kabanova
(alternative title: Kat'a Kabanova
(by Leos Janacek)

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Opera in three acts.

Composed in 1919-21.

Libretto written by Leos Janacek after Alexander Ostrovsky's play Groza (The Storm or The Thunderstorm) (1859).

Premiere: 21 November 1921, National Theater, Brno (now Czech Republic).

Act 1

The scene takes place in the 1860s on the banks of the River Volga in the Russian town of Kalinov. Boris is being sternly lectured by his uncle Dikoj. After Dikoj leaves, Boris explains to his school teacher neighbor that he tolerates this abuse as Dikoj controls his inheritance from his now-dead parents. Boris adds that he is in love with Katya, the sweet and good-natured wife of the rich merchant Tichon. Tichon is under the thumb of his domineering mother Kabanicha. The latter now lectures Tichon on how to behave and she orders him to leave forthwith on a business trip to Kazan. The weak-willed Tichon acquiesces. Katya tells Varvara, a foundling girl living in her household, about her happy childhood, of her yearning for love and that she secretly loves Boris. Katya begs Tichon not to go on the trip. Kabanicha orders Katya to behave obediently while Tichon is away.

Act 2

Kabanicha starts complaining again and reproves Katya for not showing more regret at Tichon's departure. Varvara is making plans for a tryst in the garden with her own lover, Kudras, and at the same time she gives the garden gate key to Ktay, suggesting she should have a similar assignation with Boris. A drunken Dikoj arrives, hoping for a tête-à-tête with Katay but is sent away by her. Boris arrives and declares his love to Katya. The latter hesitates, feeling guilty, but then throws herself into his arms.

Act 3

It is now a fortnight later and a big storm is taking place. The scientifically-inclined Kudra observes that there are no lightning conductors to protect them -- to which Dikoj replies that storms are divine punishments. Katanicha and Tichon are taking shelter from the storm. Katya runs in distraught and confesses to the latter that she has sinned every night during his absence. She names Boris as her lover and runs back out into the storm. Katya runs into Boris's arms. Boris has been ordered by Tichon to leave for a posting in faraway Siberia; so this will be their final meeting. Katya leaps into the Volga. Tichon tries to help Katay but his mother Kabanicha holds him back. Tichon finally finds the strength to stand up to his mother and he blames her for murdering his wife. Kabanicha shows no emotion.

Kamila Stosslova and her son Otto in 1917 (image)

Kamila Stosslova and her son Otto in 1917

Study Notes

Katya Kabanova is regarded by most critics as Janacek's first mature opera.

Amazingly the opera had its premiere when Janacek was 67 years old. It was inspired by his love for Kamila Stosslova.

The opera's lead character, Katya Kabanova, was modeled on Ms Stosslova.

Janacek's love occurred despite the fact that both the opera composer and Ms Stosslova were both married to other people and despite the fact that he was 37 years older than her. It seems that the composer's lover for her was unrequited. However, he remained in close contact with her via letters (he wrote more than 700 to her) until his death.

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Author: David Paul Wagner
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See also:
Middle Ages Music
Renaissance Music
Baroque Era Music
Classical Era Music
Romantic Era Music
Nationalist Era Music
Turn of Century Music

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