Kát’a Kabanová’s Jennifer Roderer knew that things had just kicked up a notch for her character — the loathsome, interfering mother Kabanicha — when director Garry Hynes said, “This is for you,” and handed her a cane.
The mezzo-soprano likens that cane to Kabanicha’s anger, “She’s clutching to it for dear life. It’s her authority. It’s also a crutch.”
Judging by audience response to her entirely convincing portrayal, Roderer might find that cane coming in handy as a defensive weapon, too. When the cast comes out on stage to take their bows, Roderer gets booed. Loudly. She loves it.
“It feels really good,” she says, laughing. “I’ve played the Witch in Hansel and Gretel. This is a much bigger response!”
As Tichon’s mother in the opera, Kabanicha has a complicated obsession with her son. Even though they all share the same household, she’s decided that Tichon’s wife Kat’a has stolen him away, depriving Mommy of his complete attention. It’s also clear to her that Tichon doesn’t discipline his wife as a husband should. And on and on. To hear Kabanicha tell it, the list of things the poor man gets wrong is endless. He’s become a very naughty boy indeed. And it’s all Kat’a’s fault.
“Kat’a is the new type of person,” says Roderer. “Kabanicha represents the old ways.” To which one might add that Tichon’s mother may just be the mother of all mother-in-laws, in the worst possible degree.
“She’s very coarse,” Roderer says about her character’s behavior. “Very coarse and she thinks nothing of it.” Mommy Dearest will defend the turf she’s already lost. To the death. Not her own death, of course. She drives her daughter-in-law to unendurable levels of misery.
In her hostility, Roderer says, “Kabanicha is larger than life.”
We suggest to Roderer that it’s often people with the sweetest dispositions in real life who get inside a nasty character like this and make these villains really come to life.
We ask, “Are you actually a very sweet person?”
Giggling she says, “I am nice! I’m polite, too.” But as a real-life mom herself, she admits to catching herself sometimes. “Oh, oh. There’s Kabanicha coming out!”
We shudder even to think of that.
Roderer’s next role (also as a mom, but a much less fearsome one) is with Palm Beach Opera in Florida in the Ben Moore opera, Enemies: A Love Story, based on the Isaac Bashevis Singer novel.
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