Tradition Meets Modernity At Start Of English National Opera Season
Dmitri Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk of 1934 is a stunning opener to English National Opera’s 2015-16 season. Mtsensk is a Russian town distinguished only for being obscure, and the Lady Macbeth of the title is Katerina Ismailova, trapped in a childless marriage with local mill owner Zinovy. She finds love in the arms of the mill worker Sergei but in her bid for freedom murders both her vile father-in-law and her husband. The law catches up on her and while in prison Sergei abandons her for a younger convict. Her final act of revenge is to kill her rival, though she dies in the process.
The opera has a fascinating performance history as it was banned by Stalin. Director Dmitri Tcherniakov updates it to the present day focusing on the clash of tradition and modernity in post-Soviet Russia. It seems to show that, while neither force can guarantee human dignity, denying that dignity turns people into monsters. Shostakovich’s music moves from the sublime to the jokey, as echoes of Giuseppe Verdi’s ‘Willow Song’ from Otello (1887) can be heard in it, even as it looks forward to Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes (1945).
The modern factory setting appears to have grown up around a red-carpetted time capsule of a traditional house within which Katerina is trapped while modern life carries on outside. She is dressed in traditional costume while everyone else is in office/factory wear identical the world over. Star American soprano Patricia Racette is superlative as Katerina, capturing both her desire to stand up for women and her traditionalism. Her Katerina is an anti-heroine whom you admire but never pity. The rest of the cast is also excellent. John Daszak is superb as her lover Sergei, Peter Hoare is as fantastic as ever as her husband and Robert Hayward is totally believable as the obnoxious father-in-law. The ENO chorus and orchestra are on top form. If this production is a sign of things to come under new Music Director Mark Wigglesworth’s reign, there are exciting times ahead.
By Nik Dasgupta
Until 20 October (eight performances) at the London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, Charing Cross, WC2N 4ES. For tickets (£12-99) visit the English National Opera website. Londonist saw this opera on a complimentary ticket.
Last Updated 29 September 2015