Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District

PHOTOALBUM

Dmitry Shostakovich

Libretto by Dmitry Shostakovich and Aleksandr Preis after the same name novel by Nikolai Leskov
Production by the Helikon-Opera Theatre based on the first author’s edition

Stage Director – Dmitry Bertman
Music Director – Vladimir Ponkin
Set and Costume Designers – Igor Nezhny and Tatiana Tulubieva
Playing time  –  2 hours 40 minutes (two intermissions)
Premiere  –  28.01.2000
Language of performance –  Russian

The play is awarded “The Golden Mask” Russian National Theatre
Award in four categories: “Best play of musical theatre”, “Best director’s work of musical theatre”, “Best conductor’s work”, “Best actress of musical theatre” (2001).

Love and misery, greed and despair, treachery, fear and passion are boiling in the hell hearth of Shostakovich music. The creators of the performance touch the eternal questions about the right to give and to take Life in the name of whatever. One of the best operas of XX century, staged by Dmitry Bertman, absorbed the paradoxicality and cruelty of the period, experienced not only by Leskov characters, but by the whole mankind.

HISTORY 

One may tell for sure that after “The Queen of Spades” there was no creation of such scale and depth as “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” in the history of the Russian musical theatre” — critic Ivan Ivanovich Sollertinsky said at the days of the premiere of a 20th century’s greatest opera, which took place on 22 January 1934 in the Leningrad Maly Opera Theatre. Then it triumphantly stalked along the world largest opera scenes: Moscow, New-York, Buenos-Aires, Philadelphia, London, Paris, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Prague, Bratislava, Zagreb, Ljubljana… The Shostakovich’s opera had a success, which no other opera had achieved before it. According to the chronicles by the end of 1935 “Lady Macbeth” had been staged 177 times only in Russia. There was even the time, when in Moscow one could see and hear it simultaneously in three productions: at the branch of the Bolshoi Theatre, at the Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre, and in the tour plays of the Leningrad Maly Opera and Ballet Theatre. The outstanding fine art experts of the 30s qualified “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” as “the greatest triumph of the Soviet music” and a brand new word in the world music. Conductor Samuil Samosud, a participant of the Leningrad premiere, called his article about the unique creation of the young composer: “The opera, which makes the epoch”. 

And suddenly an impossible thing happened: the footlights of the Russian capital theatres went out for “Lady Macbeth”, the stage history of the opera, which had become the pride of the national culture, ended in a trice across the whole Soviet territory. Everything disappeared as if touched with a wand. And the reason was the devastating lead article in the “Pravda” newspaper dated 28 January 1936, titled “The Mess instead of Music” framed up by the direct order of Stalin. On behalf of the Communist Party and the people, the composer and his opera were convicted of “leftist mess”, “enormous vulgarism”, “sexual naturalism” middle class formalistic strains”, and “topsy-turvy” music. And finally there was a dreadful conclusion: “the Lady Macbeth is popular abroad among the bourgeois audience. May it be because of its confusion and absolute political apathy?” It sounded like the prosecutor’s bark “You are the enemy of the people!” 

This impudent and mocking title “The Mess instead of Music” turned out to be surprisingly viable. It came into all the textbooks and encyclopedias, got the significance of timeless dogma. It integrated into the image of the Shostakovich’s opera itself, that later on, in the times of persecutions of the formalists and cosmopolitans (after the Decree about Music of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of the Bolsheviks dated 1948), a music expert, speaking at a meeting, said: “Composer Shostakovich, who wrote opera “The Mess instead of Music”, made and an irrevocable mistake”. As relatives and friends of Dmitry Dmitrievich said, he had faced the challenge with seldom courage and disarming self-irony. And every year over a glass of vodka he celebrated the unforgettable January day, when that devastating article about “Lady Macbeth” had been published. But “the feeling of the artist, who was depreciated in himself, didn’t leave him till his dying day’ (the words of Galina Vishnevskaya). The last time the composer drank this glass of vodka with his friends in Repino on 29 January 1974. Moreover he refused to write a new opera until “Lady Macbeth” was staged again in Russia. 

 

SUMMARY

Act 1

Catherina Lvovna, the wife of a rich merchant Zinoviy Borisovich Izmaylov, has been weary of boredom and loneliness. Her father-in-low Boris Timofeevich also hassles her, because she can’t produce a hair having being married for about five years. Zinoviy Borisovich takes a new laborer Sergey and is going to leave for his job. Boris Timofeevich makes Catherina and the laborers say farewell to the host, weeping and swearing commitment. 

Everybody breaks up. Kitchen maid Aksinya tells Catherina of a new laborer Sergey: “He can seduce any woman”. In the absence of the host the servants are having fun with Aksinya. As Catherine appears among them Sergey jauntily offers her to try strength against him. Suddenly Boris Timofeevich appears, sends everybody to do their job and ramps Catherine about telling everything to her husband. 

Catherine languishes in her bedroom. But suddenly her loneliness is disturbed by Sergey, who has come under the pretense of asking her a book and starts a talk on a tearful female fate. Catherine asks him to leave, but Sergey embraces her with passion. Boris Timofeevich can’t sleep, as he sees thieves in each corner. He remembers his youth as he walked under the windows of the other’s wives and sometimes climbed into the windows. Having decided to do as he did in his young days and to climb into the window of his daughter-in-law, he suddenly sees Sergey climbing out of her window. Boris Timofeevich catches him, gathers the people, and beats him before maddened Catherina. But Sergey utters no sound. Tired of the execution Boris Timofeevich locks him in a pantry and asks Catherine to serve him some food. But Catherine poisons his food and as the oldster falls in his agony, she takes the pantry keys. To the coming priest Catherine explains that he has eaten some unknown mushrooms last night, which might have been poisonous... Sergey is depressed by the near arrival of Zinovy Borisovich: he doesn’t want to be a secret lover of Catherine. Catherine calms him down, but feels anxiety and sees the ghost of Boris Timofeevich, cursing her. There are hardly audible steps behind the door: the husband has returned. Catherine hides her lover and slowly unlocks the door. Zinovy Borisovich speaks to her gibingly, but having noticed a male’s belt he strikes her out. Having heard the Catherine’s cry Sergey appears and they both choke Zinovy Borisovich to death, and hide his body in the cellar. 

Act 2
There is a scene of marriage of Catherine and Sergey. A sloppy winebibber has been walking around the cellar for a long time. After the newly married have gone to church, he breaks the cellar’s lock, sees the corpse and runs to the police horror-stricken. 

The police are massing about moodily. The quarter policeman is offended that he hasn’t been invited to the marriage. The police officer brings a negativist, who is doubtful about God’s existence; he’s discovered, that not only a human can have a soul, but also a frog, while its soul is “small and mortal”.

The sloppy winebibber, trembling in fear, tells about the corpse in the Izmaylova’s cellar. There is a sudden excitement among the policemen and they go to Izmaylova.

The marriage feast is going on. Half-drunk guests with the priest on the top bless the newly married. Suddenly Catherine notices the cellar lock has been broken. Having realized that their crime has been revealed, she decides to run away with Sergey. But at the same time the police are knocking at the gate. Catherine herself puts out her hands and the police tie them. Sergey tries to escape with the money, but fails. The newly married are being brought to the prison. 

Act 3
The imprisonment at hard labor has become Catherine’s destiny instead of a wealthy house, though she is more depressed by the separation from Sergey. Catherine asks the warder to see him, but Sergey chucks her out, blaming her for bringing him to imprisonment. And Sergey steals to a young prisoner Sonetka. He woos her and she demands new stockings for it. Deceiving and tricking Sergey takes the Catherine’s stockings and gives them to Sonetka. The prisoners laugh at Catherine’s feelings and play her up. The ward quiets them, but the life has stopped for Catherine. 

The prisoners are about to go to their hard labor. Catherine slowly approaches Sonetka, standing on the footbridge and suddenly, having shoved her into the water, dives behind her. The river flow takes the both away. 

 

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