A Night at the Opera – Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District

On Saturday, my sister and I went to see English National Opera’s performance of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. As we are both massive Shostakovich fans, this was an incredible opportunity as this is not an opera that is performed often. After a slightly stressful journey (we got lost a couple of times), we finally arrived with only a couple of minutes to spare.

Lady Macbeth does not follow the story of the character in the Shakespeare play. It instead follows Katerina, a woman trapped in a loveless marriage. She then meets Sergei and begins an affair. Love, sex, murder and betrayal follow. You know, the usual opera tropes.

This performance was incredible, especially the two singers playing Katerina and Sergei (Patricia Racette and John Daszak). They are very challenging parts and often the singers are at the very top of their ranges. All the orchestral parts also had their tricky moments, especially in the woodwind, but the orchestra made them sound effortless. The set was also really interesting, many portions being used for various locations in the plot. The best part however was the end, where the stage was blacked out apart form one tiny prison cell where the rest of the opera took place.

It was great to hear all the sections of this opera that are alluded to in other pieces by Shostakovich, such as in the 8th String Quartet and 7th and 10th Symphonies. For example, the fourth movement of the 8th String Quartet contains a quotation from Katerina’s prison love song. As this was the work that got Shostakovich denounced by the state, it is strange that he should use it so many times in other compositions.

I cannot recommend this opera enough. If you can go and see it, please go. There was never a dull moment; it had me hooked form the first note to the very last.

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