Benacková was just 31 when she appeared in this country for the first time in this concert performance at Carnegie Hall. It would be another 12 years until her Met debut in this same opera at Kát’a’s company premiere in Jonathan Miller’s 1991 production opposite Leonie Rysanek.
I attended that memorable Met evening but I had also come to New York for what was to be Benacková’s first Met engagement 4 years earlier. After today’s Kát’a, she didn’t return until Opera Orchesta of New York presented her as Smetana’s Libuse in 1986; later that year she was Desdemona with Placido Domingo in Otello for the opening of the Los Angeles Opera. The following February she was announced as Micaela in a starry Met Carmen with Agnes Baltsa, José Carreras and Samuel Ramey followed quickly by Rusalka with OONY.
She canceled both engagements late in the day pleading illness and was replaced at the Met by Leona Mitchell while OONY moved Rusalka to Avery Fisher Hall two months later. Of course I had to fly back to NYC for the Dvorak and her water nymph that perfect May night 33 years ago remains some of the most breathtaking singing I’ve ever heard.
Trove Thursday will present Benacková in another Czech opera later this year but in the meantime she and her compatriot Peter Dvorsky can be heard here in Dvorak’s rarely performed, stunning Svatebni Kosile (The Spectre’s Bride).
Despite few local appearances, Kniplová, who died in January, nonetheless had an important Janacek career in New York City. Besides this riveting Kát’a, she was Kostelnicka in Jenufa during the Hamburg State Opera’s historic 1967 visit to the Met (her only times at the house) as well as Emilia Marty in the local premiere of Vec Makropulos with the Little Orchestra Society later that same year.
Janacek: Kát’a Kabanová
Opera Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall
25 February 1979
Kát’a — Gabriela Benacková
Kabanicha — Nadjezhda Kniplová
Varvara — Natalya Chudy
Boris — William Lewis
Tichon — Nicholas di Virgilio
Vána Kudrjas — Alan Kays
Dikoj — Boris Martinovich
Conductor — Eve Queler
Kát’a Kabanová can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.
Two other great Janacek works are available from Trove Thursday: Jenufa with Sena Jurinac and Martha Mödl and Vec Makropulos with Karita Mattila.
The archive listing all Trove Thursday offerings in alphabetical order by composer has been recently updated.