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2.12.04

Shostakovich, Lady Macbeth

Other Newspaper Review:

Raymond Stults, Femme Fatale (Context: The Moscow Times, November 26)
One of the opera productions that I missed in my Preview of the Opera Season, 2004–2005 was the new Bolshoi Opera version of Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. George Loomis's review (A tame version of a steamy opera, December 1) for the International Herald Tribune has the goods:
After years of post-Soviet stagnation, the Bolshoi Theater has made notable progress in upgrading the theatrical and musical standards of its opera productions under the general director Anatoli Iksanov and its music director Alexander Vedernikov, even importing international producers on the order of Francesca Zambello and Peter Konwitschny. Much of the interesting dramatic work is centered in the company's New Stage, which opened two years ago. In the venerable main theater, ties to tradition remain stronger, as one was reminded by its new production of Shostakovich's "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District."

This should have been an exhilarating experience - the final step in the post-Soviet rehabilitation of Shostakovich's expressionistic masterwork in its original form (as opposed to the toned-down 1962 revision). It was at the Bolshoi, after all, that Stalin attended a performance in 1936, disliked what he saw and heard, and caused the opera to disappear from the Russian stage. Alas, the competent but bland staging by the Georgian director Temur Chkheidze manages to take the edge off this steamy tale of a provincial merchant's wife who seeks relief from boredom through sexual fulfillment and murder.
It sounds like the Berlin production of this opera, at the Komische Oper, is much more interesting, as reviewed by Shirley Apthorp (Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Komische Oper, Berlin, December 1) for the Financial Times (London):
Just which Lady Macbeth are we watching? Hans Neuenfels leaves the question open. His new production for Berlin's Komische Oper weaves Shakespeare into Shostakovich and recalls Verdi. For good measure, it bows to Brecht and hints at Greek tragedy. Vassily Sinaisky, by contrast, leaves no doubt. This is Shostakovich's original score of 1932, in all its vulgar glory. Sinaisky lets it rip, wallowing in the graphic crudity of the score. Seldom has this orchestra sounded so full-bodied and raw. No wonder Stalin took offence when he heard the piece. But the salacious stays firmly in the pit. This must be the first premiere in years for which Neuenfels has reaped no boos. It is rare for him not to set out to provoke his audience, and seldom that he tells a story with such spare clarity.
While we wallow in Shostakovichiana, there is also this review (Shostakovich and Stalin: An Extraordinary Relationship, November 30) by Anatoly Korolev for Novosti (in English) of Simon Volkov's latest book, Shostakovich and Stalin: The Extraordinary Relationship between the Great Composer and the Brutal Dictator.

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