Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Don Carlo in Marseille

First mounted in 2015 at the Opéra National de Bordeaux this splendid Don Carlo production took stage just now at the Opéra de Marseille with a completely different cast and conductor. This Marseille edition achieved an artistic stature rarely found hereabouts, or anywhere.

Diamanda Galás: Savagery and Opulence

Unconventional to the last, Diamanda Galás tore through her Barbican concert on Monday evening with a torrential force that shattered the inertia and passivity of the modern song recital. This was operatic activism, pure and simple. Dressed in metallic, shimmering black she moved rather stately across the stage to her piano - but there was nothing stately about what unfolded during the next 90 minutes.

Schubert Wanderer Songs - Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

A summit reached at the end of a long journey: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall, as the two-year Complete Schubert Song series draws to a close. Unmistakably a high point in the whole traverse. A well-planned programme of much-loved songs performed exceptionally well, with less well known repertoire presented with intelligent flourish.

La Bohème in San Francisco

In 2008 it was the electrifying conducting of Nicola Luisotti and the famed Mimì of Angela Gheorghiu, in 2014 it was the riveting portrayals of Michael Fabbiano’s Rodolfo and Alexey Markov’s Marcelo. Now, in 2017, it is the high Italian style of Erika Grimaldi’s Mimì — and just about everything else!

A heart-rending Jenůfa at Grange Park Opera

Katie Mitchell’s 1998 Welsh National Opera production of Janáček’s first mature opera, Jenůfa, is a good choice for Grange Park Opera’s first season at its new home, West Horsley Place. Revived by Robin Tebbutt, Mitchell and designer Vicki Mortimer’s 1930s urban setting emphasises the opera’s lack of sentimentality and subjectivism, and this stark realism is further enhanced by the narrow horseshoe design of architect Wasfi Kani’s ‘Theatre in the Woods’ whose towering walls and narrow width seem to add further to the weight of oppression which constricts the lives of the inhabitants.

Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera

“I am nearer to the greatest secrets of the next world than I am to the smallest secrets of those eyes!” So despairs Golaud, enflamed by jealousy, suspicious of his mysterious wife Mélisande’s love for his half-brother Pelléas. Michael Boyd’s thought-provoking new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera certainly ponders plentiful secrets: of the conscience, of the subconscious, of the soul. But, with his designer Tom Piper, Boyd brings the opera’s dreams and mysteries into landscapes that are lit, symbolically and figuratively, with precision.

Carmen: The Grange Festival

The Grange Festival, artistic director Michael Chance, has opened at Northington Grange giving everyone a chance to see what changes have arisen from this change of festival at the old location. For our first visit we caught the opening night of Annabel Arden's new production of Bizet's Carmen on Sunday 11 June 2017. Conducted by Jean-Luc Tingaud with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the pit, the cast included Na'ama Goldman as Carmen, Leonardo Capalbo as Don Jose, Shelley Jackson as Micaela and Phillip Rhodes as Escamillo. There were also two extra characters, Aicha Kossoko and Tonderai Munyevu as Commere and Compere. Designs were by Joanna Parker (costume co-designer Ilona Karas) with video by Dick Straker, lighting by Peter Mumford. Thankfully, the opera comique version of the opera was used, with dialogue by Meredith Oakes.

Don Giovanni in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera revved up its 2011 production of Don Giovanni with a new directorial team and a new conductor. And a blue-chip cast.

Dutch National Opera puts on a spellbinding Marian Vespers

A body lies in half-shadow, surrounded by an expectant gathering. Our Father is intoned in Gregorian chant. The solo voices bloom into a chorus with a joyful flourish of brass.

Into the Wood: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Snape Maltings

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where Oxlips and the nodding Violet grows.’ In her new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Netia Jones takes us deep into the canopied groves of Oberon’s forest, luring us into the nocturnal embrace of the wood with a heady ‘physick’ of disorientating visual charms.

Rigoletto in San Francisco

Every once in a while a warhorse redefines itself. This happened last night in San Francisco when Rigoletto propelled itself into the ranks of the great masterpieces of opera as theater — the likes of Falstaff and Tristan and Rossini’s Otello.

My Fair Lady at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In its spring musical production of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady Lyric Opera of Chicago has put together an ensemble which does ample justice to the wit and lyrical beauty of the well-known score.

Henze: Elegie für junge Liebende

Hans Werner Henze’s compositions include ten fine symphonies, various large choral and religious works, fourteen ballets (among them one, Undine, that ranks the greatest of modern times), numerous prominent film scores, and hundreds of additional works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo instruments or voice. Yet he considered himself, above all, a composer of opera.

Werther at Manitoba Opera

If opera ultimately is about bel canto, then one need not look any further than Manitoba Opera’s company premiere of Massenet’s Werther, its lushly scored portrait of an artist as a young man that also showcased a particularly strong cast of principal artists. Notably, all were also marking their own role debuts, as well as this production being the first Massenet opera staged by organization in its 44-year history.

Seattle: A seamlessly symphonic L’enfant

Seattle Symphony’s “semi-staged” presentation of L’enfant et les sortilèges was my third encounter with Ravel’s 1925 one-act “opera.” It was incomparably the most theatrical, though the least elaborate by far.

Color and Drama in Two Choral Requiems from Post-Napoleonic France

The Requiem text has brought out the best in many composers. Requiem settings by Mozart, Verdi, and Fauré are among the most beloved works among singers and listeners alike, and there are equally wondrous settings by Berlioz and Duruflé, as well as composers from before 1750, notably Jean Gilles.

Der Rosenkavalier: Welsh National Opera in Cardiff

Olivia Fuchs' new production of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier is a co-production between Welsh National Opera and Theater Magdeburg. The production debuted in Magdeburg last year and now Welsh National Opera is presenting the production as part of its Summer season, the company's first Der Rosenkavalier since 1990 (when the cast included Rita Cullis as the Marschallin and Amanda Roocroft making her role debut as Sophie).

Don Giovanni takes to the waves at Investec Opera Holland Park

There’s no reason why Oliver Platt’s imaginative ‘concept’ for this new production of Don Giovanni at Investec Opera Holland Park shouldn’t work very well. Designer Neil Irish has reconstructed a deck of RMS Queen Mary - the Cunard-White Star Line’s flag-ship cruiser during the 1930s, that golden age of trans-Atlantic cruising. Spanning the entire width of the OHP stage, the deck is lined with port-holed cabin doors - perfect hideaways for one of the Don’s hasty romantic dalliances.

"Recreated" Figaro at Garsington delights

After the preceding evening’s presentation of Annilese Miskimmon’s sparkling production of Handel’s Semele - an account of marital infidelity in immortal realms - the second opera of Garsington Opera’s 2017 season brought us down to earth for more mundane disloyalties and deceptions amongst the moneyed aristocracy of the eighteenth-century, as presented by John Cox in his 2005 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.

Semele: star-dust and sparkle at Garsington Opera

To open the 2017 season at Garsington Opera, director Annilese Miskimmon and designer Nicky Shaw offer a visually beautifully new production of Handel's Semele in which comic ribaldry and celestial feuding converge and are transfigured into star-dust.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Susan Bullock as Katerina Ismailova [Photo courtesy of Opera Australia]
12 May 2009

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk — Opera Australia

For two years following its premiere Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsesnk was one of the most often performed contemporary operas.

Dmitri Shostakovich: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Op. 29

Katerina Ismailova: Susan Bullock; Sergei: Richard Berkeley-Steele; Zinovy Ismailov: David Corcoran; Boris Ismailov: Daniel Sumegi; Sonyetka: Dominica Matthews; Aksinya / Woman Convict: Jacqueline Dark; Teacher / Shabby Peasant: Kanen Breen; Steward / Sentry: Richard Anderson; Sergeant / Chief of Police: Richard Alexander; Foreman 1 / Coachman: Stephen Smith; Foreman 2: Graeme Macfarlane; Foreman 3 / Mill-Hand: David Thelander; Porter: Charlie Kedmenec; Priest: Gennadi Dubinsky; Policeman: Shane Lowrencev; Drunk Guest: David Lewis; Old Convict: Jud Arthur. Opera Australia Chorus. Orchestra Victoria. Conductor: Richard Armstrong. Director: Francesca Zambello. Set Designer: Hildegard Bechtler. Costume Designer: Tess Schofield. State Theatre, The Arts Centre 24, 29 April, 2 & 5 May 2009.

Above: Susan Bullock as Katerina Ismailova [Photo courtesy of Opera Australia]

 

With simultaneous premieres in Leningrad and Moscow followed, at one point, by simultaneous productions in three Moscow theatres alone foreign productions followed. After the American premiere the sensational opera became topical enough to be mentioned in the Rodgers and Hart musical On Your Toes and in London, where it was performed in concert in 1936 followed by BBC broadcast, the young Benjamin Britten heard it and was impressed by its powerful interludes (and also by one of the singers, Peter Pears, who had a minor role). The came Stalin’s visit to a performance in Moscow and the subsequent attacks in Pravda on the opera, the ballet The Limpid Stream and the composer himself. The opera was withdrawn immediately. There was difficulty obtaining the music for that London concert in 1936 and after then it disappeared from every stage until 1959 when the Dusseldorf Opera managed to wrangle the orchestral music from the Soviet authorities. By then Shostakovich was testing the waters: Stalin had died and Kruschev had made public the extent of Stalin’s terror: by issuing a revised version of the opera. Only slowly, and not until after Shostakovich’s death, did the original version regain its fame.

For Opera Australia’s production, director Francesca Zambello updates the story to the Soviet era where overbearing male sexuality is just another form of oppression. The bored and sexually unfulfilled Katerina (Susan Bullock) is married to an impotent weakling Zinovy (David Corcoran) while all around her there is an environment of rampaging male sexuality. Even her lecherous father-in-law Boris (Daniel Sumegi) constantly prowls around her bedroom fantasising about doing Zinovy’s matrimonial duty for him.

After seventy years Shostakovich’s music is still exuberant and irreverent but with astonishing power in places, like those cathartic interludes that so impressed Britten. The first two acts, leading up Katerina and her lover Sergei (Richard Berkeley-Steele) murdering her husband seethe with threatening or raucous music that explode in the scenes of sex or violence that are still very confronting. In the opening scene trombones blurt slyly as Boris insinuates that she is looking for a lover and again in a later scene when he predicts her infidelity. Finally, alone in her room with Sergei the notorious on-stage sex scene, those trombones now grunt wildly along with every thrust in music that reaches a literal climax and aftermath that has to be heard to be believed! Zambello has their lovemaking as frenzied and confronting as the frenzied music and in the other notorious scene where the cook Aksinya (Jacqueline Dark) is attacked by the workmen is turned into a near mass rape, the near naked workmen groping her and themselves in a scene that begins during the linking interlude where the sleazy music accompanies Sergei signalling the workmen to gather in the wash house and making it obvious the attack is well planned and that Sergei is the ringleader. The coarseness of the male sexuality as played here sets Katerina’s ecstatic sexual awakening in sharp relief. Even though it is very confrontingly depicted it looks positively virtuous in comparison with the Boris and his worker’s lechery.

LadyMacbethofMtsensk-Bulloc.gifSusan Bullock as Katerina Ismailova [Photo by Jeff Busby]

Bullock is astounding in this most difficult role. A notable Elektra, her voice rides the huge orchestra in the dramatic scenes with a cut and edge that remains clean and steady at all times. Her recent success in the Chandos recording of Salome, where she scales down her tone to an insinuating whisper is no studio trick either. In the opening scene and later, in the plaintive about animals mating happily but not her, she can spin her voice into a mournful whisper. In the same way she projects the aria in the last act about the black lake out into the auditorium while draining her voice of colour to suggest Katerina numb from both cold and Sergei’s rejection. She acts the highly charged scenes with the same conviction she invests in every other scene right down to weary resignation with which she drowns herself and Sergei’s new mistress. I suspect now that the lulling, romantic and otherwise polite repertoire she chose for her recital was to show her vocal nice side.

Berkeley-Steele copes magnificently the short, jabbing vocal lines Shostakovich gives Sergei, as though he were — appropriately: a cock crowing. Sumegi, looking like Stalin and groping himself as often as his vodka bottle is an unashamedly disgusting Boris. All thee have excellent diction and project the text well.

Sung in English the translation is by the opera producer David Pountney for his English National Opera production which is coy in places other translations are not and forthright in places others are tamer. Katerina’s aria about animals mating, for instance, uses more sexualised language than the translations accompanying either of the two commercial CD recordings of the opera.

The smaller but necessary roles have been cast from strength. Shostakovich drives his buffo tenors hard it seems; the tenor singing the Police Captain in his earlier opera The Nose is required to sing in alt and reach an E above top C. As the shabby peasant Kanen Breen is taxed by the orchestral tsunami Shostakovich sets against the scene in which he discovers Zinovy’s body. As a result he is barely audible against the wild mazurka played forte by the full orchestra and resorts to a frenzied semaphore for the scene.

Deputising for the late Richard Hickox, who was to conduct the Sydney and Melbourne seasons this year, Richard Armstrong had apparently not conducted the work before. With the same authority he brings to Richard Strauss, he scored point after point of the music’s Janus nature, colouring the lyrical passages for Katerina, the quirky but sinister little violin passage as Boris eats the fatal mushrooms and, most importantly, exploding the interludes with shattering force. The orchestra responded superbly to the full barrage of the young and uncensored Shostakovich.

Zambello’s update appears to be roughly the same time that the opera was written. Like Patrice Chereau, who set a trend (most famously in his 1976 Ring cycle at Bayreuth) for setting an opera in the time it was written rather the time it is set, this simple action often contextualises a work in rewarding ways, even without imposing many social or political references from the time. As the Marxist overtones pervaded Chereau’s interpretation of Wagner, the ruthlessness of the purges and oppressions that were beginning in the Soviet Union underpin the story, giving some idea of what was really disturbing to Stalin and his committee. The sudden sighting of a portable television, however, spoiled the otherwise compelling concept. The poverty of regional Russia under Soviet collectivisation was superbly conveyed and gives the Ismailova’s a level of desperation not in Leskov’s original story of comfortable bourgeoisie. Here the sordid environment is both physical and metaphorical.

Michael Magnusson

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):