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
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
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!!