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I saw Shostakovich's "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk" the weekend before last at L'Opera Bastille, in a production from the Netherlands by Martin Kušej. Set for the first 3+ acts in a glass rectangle representing the Ismailov house, surrounded by dirt, it was a brutal production. I suspect a lot of people would characterize it as Eurotrash, since it depicted the tenor raping the half-naked servant Aksinya, who had been smeared with dirt by the gang of workers, and sex under strobe lights between Sergei and Katerina, but I thought it was spot on. I never thought I'd see anything more rough or depressing than the anti-war "Die Soldaten", but Shostakovich's mix of tenderness and cynicism was more hopeless and stark.

Of the leads, tenor Michael Koenig as Sergei was very strong vocally and dramatically. I liked Vladimir Vaneev's menace as Katherina's father-in-law, but he was covered by the orchestra at its loudest, and it was loud a lot. The orchestra played brilliantly for conductor Hartmut Haenchen, with a group of brass (trumpets, horns, and tubas) at the sides of the stage, and the chorus produced a wall of sound, just glorious.

The first, second, and third stars of the game were Anna-Maria Westbroek, and it was her performance that depicted the world-view, from sublime tenderness to flat boredom, to ruthlessness to humiliation to despair. Her voice is gorgeous throughout her range, and it soared or cut through the massive orchestration whenever needed. Thanks to the multiple alerts from the Opera-L list, I learned today that San Francisco Opera is continuing with its Ring Cycle, with Die Walkuere next season, and Westbroek will sing Sieglinde, reason enough for me to make the trip in June 2010.

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The Met did this piece back in the mid 90s with a revival around the turn of the century. It's a "regie" type production which worked for me given the comic accents Shostakovich put into the score to provide contrast to grim plot.

We were due to have another revival at the Met in 2009-2010, however the revival was dropped due to budget problems related to the economy.


On a related note, the Met is due to announce full details of their 2009-2010 season just as I am typing this (10AM EST)

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I saw Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at the Met way back in 2000 with Catherine Malfitano and Vladimir Galouzine. The production was by Graham Vick, who updated the setting to the Soviet Union in the 50s-60s. The staging was somewhat controversial at the time, but I thought it was very effective. (It was dismissed as Eurotrash by some, but it didn't really have the kind of gratuitous and overthought intrusions that characterize classic Eurotrash.) It's a grim and acidly sarcastic opera: Vick's production effectively stripped away the kind of picture-postcard peasant village prettiness that might distract one from that fact and put both the characters' plight and their depravity in a context that made them simultaneously appalling and comprehensible.

The Met was going to revive Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk next year, but I gather budgetary constraints have put that plan on hold. Too bad. It will probably be a decade before I work up sufficient enthusiasm to drag myself off to yet another bloated production of La Boheme, but I would have handed over some serious $$$ to see Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk again.

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