Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District - Dimitri Shostakovich - English National Opera

I went to the Coliseum to see Shostakovich's vast opera of 4 Acts and 9 Scenes, text by Shostakovich and Alexander Preys, after the short story by Nikolai Semyonovich Leskov and conducted by Mark Wiggleworth. The orchestra was augmented by a huge brass band of massed trumpets, cornets and euphoniums, almost shattering the eardrums!

The main characters are Katerina, wife of Zinovy; Boris, a merchant; and Zinovy, Boris' son, likewise a merchant; Sergei, an estate worker and new employee of the Ismailovs.

Briefly, the story is of Katerina - she has a passionless marriage and a tyrannical father-in-law (he asks Katerina, "where is the heir to our property?"She replies that his son is impotent). She finds refuge and release in a dangerous affair with an estate worker Sergei but adultery leads to murder and her agony leads to inexorable tragedy; a mix of a thriller and a melodrama.

There is an extraordinary revolving set by Stefanos Lazardis, which is nothing new. I remember a friend telling me how her grandmother had seen the 1920/30s? production of The Merry Window at the same theatre with the famous Danish star Carl Brisson as Danilo and a revolving stage was used then!!!

Vivian Tierney played Katerina; Robert Brubaker Sergei; Pavlo Nunka was Boris and Zinovy was Rhys Meirion. It is a work of political aspects showing the cruelty of the Russian Regime and how Stalin suppressed Shostakovich as a composer and also enslaved Russia, and the final image of the Gulag victims is heart-rending. But there are also laughs along the way with the brass band noisily accompanying the energetic lovemaking of Katerina and Sergei. Richard Roberts in the role of a dissent teacher made up as Shostakovich brought a touch of poignancy to the proceedings.

Aksinya, the cook, warns Katerina that Sergei is a notorious seducer. At his last place "he even got the mistress into bed with him. That's why they asked him". The workers egged on by Sergei brutally assault and molest Aksinya. Katerina interrupts them and demands that women be respected. So Sergei tests her equality in a wrestling match, forcing her to the floor just as Boris enters. Katerina protects Sergei from blame. Sergei and Katerina are later found together by Boris who flogs him. Then Boris demands food with mushrooms. Katerina laces them with rat poison. (A critic commented that after her skittish delivery of the poisoned supper to her father-in-law he would never eat mushrooms again!!!) The priest seems a little suspicious but still conducts Boris' funeral with panache! Sergei is concerned that Katerina's husband Zinovy will soon return. He does and in the ensuing panic is murdered. Katerina and Sergei are to be married. But her husband's body is still rotting in the cord-store. The "shabby peasant" in his search for drink finds the body and goes to the police station. The police are overworked and underpaid and, worst of all, have not been invited to Katerina's wedding. For a corpse to be found in her cellar is a "gift from God". At the wedding everyone gets into a drunken stupor. The police arrive and arrest Katerina and Sergei. The prisoners are marching on the road to Siberia. Sergei is blaming Katerina for his downfall and, even now, he is looking at another woman, Sonyetka, who will not accept his affection, unless he procures new stockings for her. Sergei invents a lie about chaffed legs and Katerina parts with her stockings. Sonyetka surrenders to Sergei. There is nothing now left for Katerina. Even in death she is woman of action. She seizes Sonyetka and they drown in the black waters. The prisoners march on.

Shostakovich said, "I dedicated Lady Macbeth to my bride, my future wife, so naturally the opera is about love too, but not only love. It's also about how love could have been if the world weren't full of vile things. It is the vileness that ruins love. And the laws, and properties, and financial worries, and the police state. If conditions had been different, love would have been different, too. "Isn't that the truth!!


Verinha Ottoni.


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