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Shostakovich - Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk

4.4 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Eva-maria Westbrook, Christopher Ventris, Carole Wilson, Vladimir Vaneev, Lani Poulson, Ludovit Ludha, and Alexandre Kravets star in this De Nederlandse Opera production of the Shostakovich opera conducted by Mariss Jansons. Extras include documentary fil

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Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, a lurid tale of sex, murder, and corruption, premiered in 1934 and was a success until Stalin saw it two years later, resulting in a Pravda review that viciously condemned it. It was later replaced by an expurgated version, now called Katerina Ismailova after the work's principal character. The original version has now reclaimed its place on international stages. The heroine is the daughter-in-law of Boris, a greedy, lecherous merchant, and the frustrated wife of his impotent son. Katerina poisons Boris and when her husband returns she and her lover, Sergei, kill him too, burying him in the cellar. The body is discovered during their wedding party. Haunted by guilt, Katerina confesses and the newlyweds are consigned to Siberia. When Sergei takes up with another woman, Katerina pushes her into the river and then jumps in herself.

Director Martin Kusej keeps the narrative moving inexorably to its fatal ending while indulging in broad satirical portraits of the symbols of society's power to crush the individual. Katerina is a tragic heroine trapped in a cage-like structure that serves as the merchant's house, her bedroom (bare but with a collection of shoes that would satisfy Imelda Marcos), and later the prison transport where she meets her end. Some of the satire is broad--the policemen are out of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta. And there's abundant acreage of human flesh on display, along with a near-rape and enough consensual sex to warrant an "X" rating. But it all fits a tale where the orchestra is often in porno territory, as in the famous trombone glissandos so prominent in Katerina and Sergei's first coupling. Kusej's only serious flaw is at the end, where he has Katerina lynched by her fellow-prisoners though the text clearly has her committing suicide by drowning.

This production has the advantage of one of the world's great orchestras, the Royal Concertgebouw, and its conductor, Mariss Jansons. They do everything brilliantly, whether it's a yearning string passage or a coarse depiction of on-stage brutality. As Katerina, Eva-Marie Westbrook is compelling, singing well and acting with convincing authority. Christopher Ventris' Sergei looks, acts, and sings like a burly seducer should. Boris, the dirty old man, is Vladimir Vaneev, whose ample bass and acting present a fully-rounded figure that goes beyond the part's stage villain aspects. Video director Thomas Grimm makes it all lucid on disc, the cameras rarely venturing away from what must be seen. It all adds up to a powerful performance of a powerful opera. --Dan Davis


Special Features

  • Sung in Russian with subtitles
  • "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk: The Tragedy of Katerina Ismailova": a documentary film by Reiner E. Moritz, including interviews with stage director Martin Kusej, music director Mariss Jansons, and members of the cast
  • Illustrated synopsis
  • Cast gallery
  • Recorded in high definition and true surround sound

Product Details

  • Actors: Christopher Ventris, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Vladimir Vaneev, Carole Wilson, Ludovit Ludha
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Classical, Color, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Russian
  • Subtitles: German, English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, French
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
    NR
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Opus Arte
  • DVD Release Date: January 30, 2007
  • Run Time: 236 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000JJRACI
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,455 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dr. J. J. Kregarman VINE VOICE on February 4, 2007
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This is now my third DVD of Lady Macbeth, an opera which I would rank among the very best of all 20th century operas and of all Russian operas. Its strong points are very strong indeed. The musical performance as led by Mariss Jansons is outstanding and there are no disturbingly weak links among the singers/actors. All leading performers deserve the wild applause they receive at the opera's end. And the sound on this DVD is magnificent. There is only one possible fly in the ointment and that is one's ability (or inability) to go along with Martn Kusej's stage direction. Sex and murder were done well and only in the last act - set in some kind of asylum or jail - did what was going on stage (people wandering around in their underwear) seem at odds with what was going on in the opera itself (prisoners marching off to Siberia). Otherwise I do not think the production gets in the way of the drama. With repeated listening - and this production deserves repeated listening - I think its musical strengths will win out over any questions.
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Following Rostropovich's pioneering effort from the latter days of LP, Shostakovich's second (and last) opera seems to finally reach its deserved status amongst the 20th century's masterpieces in the genre. It is an outstanding work, perhaps among the composer's finest, along with the 1st violin concerto, the Michelangelo Sonnets, the 6th and 10th symphonies, the preludes and fugues for piano, the late quartets or that jewel of an opera, "The Nose". The contrast with his own watered-down version (Katerina Ismailova) which I own on Melodia LP's purchased long ago at Collett's in London's Charing Cross Rd. (they kind of specialised in selling records from the iron courtain countries) is revelatory and would explain Stalin's disgust with this original version (funny to notice how prudish dictators can be, no? no remorse from brutally having people killed or exiled to Siberia, but scandalised at Mme Ismailova's sexual frolics; it is said Hitler was quite prudish too, as is Castro, were said to be Saddam Hussein and Kim il Sung or others of their kind) and later satisfaction with the composer's 5th symphony.

Visually the production is stunning, a winner in all respects and I must congratulate Opus Arte for making it avaliable on DVD. I knew of producer Kusej's work only from reference, as not understanding german I have not attended any of his theatre productions. I haven't seen the work's EMI release on DVD of a Liceu staging, but found Gramophone's review of it rather demolishing (I don't know if they have turned their eyes yet to this Opus Arte Amsterdam version, but I should expect nothing short of a most favourable review from them).
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After listening to Rostropovich's EMI rendition I knew I would take an interest in a stage production. The cover of this DVD version is a little misleading and so are some of the critical remarks: This show isn't about a complete sex act so much as it is about the tragedy of the misdirection of a passion. The whole production is startlingly abstract in sets and action; the glass box as the setting for Katerina's home was an outstanding idea; the ghosts walking vertically was a startling addendum; the final scenes realize what I had until then considered an impossible barrier to staging: abjection of the prisoners, the desertion of Katerina by Sergei, the murder of Sonya (and how else could you depict a drowning on stage?), the last lamentations floating over the sentries and their dogs. Really, really cathartic.
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One has to admire the courage of Shostakovich ( or wonder at his folly ) for creating such a damning indictment of Stalin's police state just as the purges were reaching their climax. This lends a historical dimension to what is without doubt one of the richest operas in the literary and musical domains in the entire repertoire, modern or ancient. Other reviewers have done justice to the plot and the large cast of ( mostly ) sleazy characters around whom it is built to display the greed, envy and lust that pervade the core of the human spirit. It is a bleak commentary on humanity, as deserved in our day as in the time of the Great Dictator, and no one emerges with their reputation untarnished ( that is, if they are still alive at the end ), yet the impact upon the receptive listener and viewer is of exhiliration rather than despair. This excitement is largely the product of the magnificent orchestral work performed by Jansons and the Concertgebouw, backed up by the powerful chorus and the fine camera work that captures these extended moments in all their ugly majesty. Think of Francis Bacon's geatest canvasses and you will understand where I am coming from. Director Martin Kusej has cleverly updated the decor to our own times, and set the action in a series of spare cubes and rectangles that pare down the action to its essentials, and except for the dying moments, lends piercing clarity to the compex and busy activity on stage. This comment leads, in fact, to the finale itself, for Kusej has been accused of changing the ending. I do not see it that way. Katrina's preceding soliloquy expresses her wish for death by drowning, and nothing that follows rules out the fulfillment of that wish. Nor does the libretto.Read more ›
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