Chandos continues its admirable series of operas translated into English with Janácek's Katya Kabanova, its fifth opera by the composer. In spite of Janácek's insistence that his operas be performed only in the original language because of the inextricable link between the text setting of the Czech and the syntax of the music, it's hard to deny that hearing opera in one's native language can add hugely to the immediacy of the experience. The translation by Norman Tucker, with revisions by Rodney Blumer and Henrietta Bredin, is mostly good, with just a few musically awkward turns of phrase. The vocal performances aren't consistently strong; as the protagonists, soprano Cheryl Barker and tenor Robert Brubaker sound a little too mature for their characters and don't have the vocal warmth and fullness that would be ideal for these passionate roles, but their performances are committed and dramatically charged. Mezzo-soprano Jane Henschel has the vocal and dramatic weight to be a convincingly chilling Kabanicha. Mezzo-soprano Victoria Simmonds and tenor Peter Wedd have fresh, unforced voices that make them ideal as the secondary romantic couple. The Orchestra and Chorus of the Welsh Opera perform beautifully under the baton of Carlo Rizzo, bringing the passionate score to vibrant life.
As is the case with many of the Chandos recordings in this series, the uneven miking of the singers is the bugaboo that makes it hard to recommend this version without serious reservation. In what is apparently an attempt to re-create the ambience of the stage space, some singers sound close and others sound distant, but the result isn't spatial realism, just a distracting aural lopsidedness.