Shostakovich: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
PERFORMER: Aage Haugland, Philip Langridge, Maria Ewing, Sergei Larin, Kristine Ciesinski; L’Opéra Bastille Orchestra & Chorus/Myung-Whun Chung
CATALOGUE NO: 437 511-2 DDD
This is only the second recording of the original version of Shostakovich’s self-termed ‘tragedy satire’. The first, conducted by Rostropovich on EMI, never brought the same degree of excitement and involvement one gets from seeing the work live on stage, despite its role in reviving interest in the work and a marvellous portrayal of Katerina from Galina Vishnevskaya. In DG’s new recording, derived from a production staged at the Bastille Opera in Paris in 1991, on the other hand, the opera is brought vividly to life, from its lurid depiction of sex, sadistic violence and murder, through merciless, grotesque satire to its inevitably tragic conclusion.

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Maria Ewing always tends to overact with her voice and in any other context her whining and swooping would be out of place (at least one doesn’t have to watch her here), but she puts her dramatic range to good use, aptly conveying Katerina’s obsessive destruction of all obstacles on her path to fulfilment, if not fully grasping the tragedy when she realises the true character of the man for whom she has been acting. Aage Haugland is a sonorous Boris, playing the lecherous tyrant for all he is worth, while Philip Langridge is effective as the spineless husband, Zinovi, and Sergei Larin passionately involved as his usurper, Sergei. There is strong casting too in even the smallest of roles, from Kurt Moll’s Old Convict to Heinz Zednik’s Shabby Peasant. Under Chung’s intelligent and sympathetic direction the intensity never lets up, with the superb chorus and orchestra caught in an often overwhelming way by the flattering recording. The whole enterprise leaves one in no doubt, if any remains, that this is one of the great operas of the 20th century. Matthew Rye