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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk - opera in four acts (1934)
Libretto: Dmitri Shostakovich and Alexander Preys, after the novella by Nikolay Leskov
Katerina Ismailova - Nadine Secunde
Sergey - Christopher Ventris
Boris Ismailov - Anatoli Kotcherga
Zinoviy Ismailov - Francisco Vas
Shabby Peasant - Graham Clark
Aksinya - Mireille Capelle
Sonyetka - Nino Surguladze
Chief of Police - Juha Kotilainen
Teacher - John Hurst
Priest - Maxim Mikhailov
Old Convict - Yevgeny Nesterenko
Chamber Chorus of the Palau de la Música Catalana
Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona/Alexander Anissimov
Stage Director: Stein Winge
Video Director: Toni Bargalló
Recorded live at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, May 2002
LPCM Stereo, Dolby Digital Surround, Format - NTSC 16:9
EMI CLASSICS 5 99730 9 [2 DVDs: 187:15]

Lady Macbeth of Mtsenk is unquestionably one of the greatest operas of the 20th Century. It is good to welcome a DVD of an outstanding stage performance from the Liceu Theatre of Barcelona - a theatre which has had the bad luck to have been burnt down twice and is now in its third form.

The story of the outcome of Stalin’s visit to see the opera is well known. The opera was accused of having music that was dissonant and a plot that was crude and brutal. After Stalin’s death a ‘toned-down’ version of 1963 was produced by Shostakovich – however the original version is used for this performance.

There have been a number of CDs of the music of this opera but it has to be seen to appreciate fully the power of this masterpiece. On face value the plot is sordid in the extreme, with a murderess as heroine. The oafish tone of the surrounding action in some ways softens the impact of the crimes because of the brutal way she is treated by her husband, father-in-law and by all around her. Her ultimate fate in the Siberian prison camp after betrayal by her husband is bitingly sad. The music reflects the action marvellously, at times dramatic, often sardonic; incomparable when accompanying the grotesque behaviour of the peasants, police and even the clergy. At other times - notably the songs of the old convict - the music expresses deep tragedy.

Stein Winge’s stage direction is inspired and although he highlights Shostakovich’s distinctive grotesque humour the characters emerge not as caricatures but as human beings with all too human feelings. And never has so much vodka flowed – sometimes in most unusual ways!

The stage is like a huge garret with a skylight opening onto the outside world. The lighting is the key to the staging and alters to concentrate on specific areas at any one time - such as Katerina’s bed which is centre stage for much of the first part. It also allows the stage to be transformed, for example into the police station in a very natural way. The same staging makes a very atmospheric Siberian prison camp. The Video Director, Toni Bargalló, is most effective in his transitions between close-ups and wide angle shots so that you feel as if you are sitting in a really good seat and looking naturally at the action. Although the production is very atmospheric, everything is crystal clear and the colours are brilliant without being garish. If only all DVDs were like this!

The American soprano Nadine Secunde is well known as a Wagnerian and Straussian singer. As Katerina she displays not only her wonderful voice but also her formidable acting skills. She is ably supported by - Christopher Ventris as Sergey, her lover, - and by Anatoli Kotcherga as Boris Ismailov, her father-in-law. Yevgeny Nesterenko is in good voice as the Old Convict; Graham Clark plays the part of the shabby peasant and uses his formidable acting ability to illustrate the orchestral interludes. Alexander Anissimov conducts the music in an exemplary fashion weaving well between the different moods of the music, and producing, when needed, some very strange noises from the orchestra. The orchestral playing and choral singing are both good throughout.

The digital recording sounds very natural, especially when heard in surround sound. The presentation consists of two DVDs in a normal plastic library box which also hold a four page booklet giving details of the cast etc together with the breakdown of the Acts and Scenes and their division into DVD Chapters. A useful short essay about the opera and this particular performance is also available but this must be accessed as a pdf file via a computer equipped with a CD-ROM disk drive and an Adobe Acrobat reader.

This set is highly recommended as an exceptionally good performance of a very important opera that so seldom appears on the stage.

Arthur Baker

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