Laura Wilde on Katya Kabanova: 'The point is to find truth and the genuine person'

Laura Wilde on Katya Kabanova: 'The production isn't so much a concept, but a way of working that digs far and deep into the character'

Laura Wilde / credit: Julie Howden

American soprano takes on the title role in Scottish Opera's new production of Janácek's intense drama

In what seems complete coincidence, three major stagings of Janácek's opera Katya Kabanova are being mounted across the UK this February/March. While Opera North revive Tim Albery's production from 2007, the Royal Opera and Scottish Opera both put on new productions by Richard Jones and Stephen Lawless respectively. Each director will have, of course, put his own individual stamp on Janácek's highly charged drama, but what they all have in common in doing so is placing the character of Katya at the heart of their vision.

Emotions run high from the outset as Katya strays from an unhappy marriage to Tichon into the arms of young lover Boris. It's a part that in Scotland sees American soprano Laura Wilde take on board her second Janácek title role, having sung Jenufa for English National Opera in 2016. Initially looking towards a career as a trumpeter, Wilde discovered her love of singing almost by accident, starting out singing mezzo roles before re-training as a soprano.

Speaking between Glasgow rehearsals, she talks of the emotional journey that comes with the territory. 'Much of it's in the rehearsal process,' she says, 'and depending on how you play it, there can be different levels of sanity. For example, why does she make the choice? We start in the middle of her trauma, so I've spent a lot of time looking back at when she was a joyful person and how she's become crushed.'

Singing in the opera's original Czech is important to Wilde. 'It adds another layer,' she says, even though it is a far from familiar language. Set in Russian in the late 70s, Stephen Lawless's production is key to how she approaches Katya. 'The thing that's so brilliant about Stephen is that the production isn't so much a concept, but a way of working that digs far and deep into the character. The point is to find truth and the genuine person. The big question mark is Boris. Is it genuine love or is he a playboy? We're going back and forth and figuring it out, really mining the moments.'

Scottish Opera has championed Janácek over many years, but he's not thought of as big box office in Wilde's USA home ground. For Wilde, that's a pity. 'I'm a big believer in Janácek as a first opera for people. It's brilliant theatre, there are recognisable characters that you sympathise with and the music is so glorious.'

Scottish Opera: Katya Kabanova, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Tue 12, Thu 14 & Sat 16 Mar; Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Thu 21 & Sat 23 Mar.

Scottish Opera: Kátya Kabanová

Renowned British director Stephen Lawless brings his trademark theatricality to Janáček’s intense drama, illuminating the shattering effects of oppression and isolation. In a small industrial community, lost in the vast landscape of Russia, Kátya is torn between her love of a younger man and her duty as a wife. With…

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