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Monday, November 3, 2014

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District

The Met brings the Shostakovich opera back for the first time in 14 years.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
That's no moon...A scene from Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.
Photo by Winnie Klotz © 2000 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met revives the opera that outraged Josef Stalin, triggered the Soviet artistic purges of the 1930s, and forced Shostakovich to withdraw his Fourth Symphony.
The date was January 26, 1936. The setting: Moscow, capital of Soviet Russia. And the opera was Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, the second stage work by the ambitious Dmitri Shostakovich, the fast-rising symbol of self-proclaimed Soviet cultural superiority.

On that fateful night, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin saw Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Two days later, Pravda ran an editorial  attacking Shostakovich's opera for music that "quacks, hoots, growls and gasps to express the love scenes as naturally as possible." The opera was banned in the Soviet Union for thirty years.

Stalin's experience at Lady Macbeth triggered the infamous purges of artists, writers, musicians and yet, composers. Shostakovich, fearing for his life went back to writing music to please the dictator's particular tastes. (He even revised his Lady Macbeth as Katerina Izmailova, bringing it back to the stage in 1962.)

This is the Met's first revival of this opera in 14 years. Graham Vick's 1994 production uses Shostakovich's original hard-edged score and a kaleidoscope of imagery to tell the powerful story of Katerina, an ordinary Russian housewife driven to treachery, murder and eventually exile.

Eva-Marie Westbroek (whose C.V. includes diverse roles like the title role in Anna Nicole and Sieglinde in Die Walküre) sings the challenging title role. Tenor Brandon Jovanovich is Sergei and bass Anatoli Kotscherga sings the key role of Boris. James Conlon, a longtime specialist in 20th century music and the music director of the L.A. Opera, conducts.

Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District opens Nov. 10.

Recording Recommendations:
For an opera that is not performed very often, Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth is well represented, with two studio recordings to choose from. One features a cosmopolitan cast: soprano Marie Ewing in the title role alongside bass Aage Haugland and tenors Sergei Larin and Philip Langridge, under the baton of conductor Myun-Wun Chung.

The other, more authentically Russian is under the baton of Mtsislav Rostropovich, the conductor and cellist who spent many years as a personal friend of the composer. It features the legendary soprano Galina Vishnevskaya (also be the conductor's wife) in the title role and legendary tenor Nicolai Gedda, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Tickets for Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District are available at MetOperaFamily.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office.

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