Shostakovich: Katerina Izmailova

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Katerina Izmailova
PERFORMER: Galina Vishnevskaya, Artyom Inozemtsev, Nikolai Boyarsky, Aleksandr Sokolov, Roman Tkachuk, Tatyana Gavrilova; Chorus & Orchestra of the Shevchenko Opera and Ballet Theatre/Konstantin Simeonov, dir. Mikhail Shapiro (1966)
CATALOGUE NO: 074 3137
Shapiro’s 1966 Soviet film remains a fascinating if tough-going historical document, a long way indeed from the original Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk of the 1930s (which the star, Vishnevskaya, eventually went on to record with husband Rostropovich conducting). Shostakovich’s toned-down revision, as Katerina Izmailova, has been further pruned to give a series of disconnected tableaux, mostly shorn of their significant orchestral interludes and further disrupted by changes of scene and gimmicky split-screen devices. Shapiro’s determined realism is often at odds with the composer’s caricatural treatment of the characters surrounding the murderous heroine. He seems more interested in meticulous recreation of indoor and outdoor scenes on a merchant’s estate circa 1860 than in the sexual tension and release of the bored housewife-heroine marooned there, though the film does take on a new life conveying the endless muddy roads and icy waters encountered on the murderers’ road to Siberia in the last half-hour.


Vishnevskaya, even within these confines, is utterly compelling even if she does teeter on the brink of exaggeration. She’s the only one of the cast who gets to act as well as sing her role. The soundtrack is poorly synchronised and roughly recorded, though its megaphoned voices, very wearing on the ear, and the film’s muddy colours have come up better than they did on my much-played Russian video copy. Three cheers, at least, to Decca for bringing it back to life. David Nice