Schostakowitsch, Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk
I heard Schostakowitsch’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk tonight at the Gelikon Opera. I will only say that I *heard* it, since I do not know what opera I saw. The staging had less and less to do with the plot as the opera went on. The director (Dmitry Bertman, the principal director of the Gelikon) clearly intended to stage something with a coherent plot, but whatever he staged it was not this opera.
Instead of being set at the Izmailov home in a village, the opera I saw took place in what appeared to be a factory basement. Katerina’s room was a cage in the back. Costumes were possibly 1950s-ish, maybe 1960s, with Katerina starting out dressed in a red velvet gown. OK, I thought at first, this is just interpretation of a wild opera. He’ll go somewhere with this.
But soon it became clear that, although he was going somewhere, it was not the same direction according to the book. Various actions described in the text simply did not happen. Other actions were bizarrely changed – for example, in this version Katerina gave her father-in-law a poisoned drink, even though both of them kept singing about mushrooms. By the third act, the drunk had turned into a wedding singer, with the villagers dancing a bop to his description (crooned into microphone, with electric guitar accompaniment) of finding Katerina’s first husband’s body in the basement when he went looking for more alcohol. By the final act, the director was not even trying anymore. I could attempt to explain what was happening on stage, but I’m not sure I understood it (In which nightclub was this act set, and why weren’t the characters prisoners marching to Siberia as in the plot? Why did the murdered father-in-law return to life as a camp guard? What were the cook and priest from the village doing there? Who were all the extras in latex?)
Schostakowitsch’s opera, with its sex and violence, was intended to shock. This director did not shy away from that. But, in short, there was very little he could do to shock anyone any more than the opera plot already did. Therefore, maybe he got angry at Schostakowitsch for not allowing him freedom to shock on his own. I really cannot begin to explain what was going on in the director’s head. Again, it was not a random staging, nor German Regietheater, but clearly a staging of some plot line, just not the same plot the opera was about.
This was a huge shame. Staging a different opera than the one being performed causes the attention to drift away from the music and on to trying to figure out what the hell is happening on stage. Schostakowitsch’s music was fantastic. And the performance… well, I was so distracted by the staging, I cannot be quite sure. Certainly, everyone sounded reasonably good. This was more remarkable, because I think the Gelikon Opera has been hit by a massive flu bug: of the fifteen cast members individually listed in the program, fully ten of them were indisposed and replaced by late substitutes (who were not even from the B or C casts). The conductor was also a late substitute. This may have lessened the drama on stage, and possibly caused some additional confusion, but clearly the understudies knew their way around enough so that the confused staging was not due to their substitution but rather was the staging itself. As understudies, mostly rather young singers, they all acquitted themselves very well. If I had not been distracted by the actions on stage, I might be able to give them even better reviews. Certainly, they were not the problem tonight.