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Shostakovich: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
Dmitri Shostakovich, Mstislav Rostropovich, Galina Vishnevskaya
Shostakovich: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (24) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (27) - Disc #2

Written between 1930 and 1932, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was one of the most brilliant achievements of Shostakovich's long career. It was also the work that got him into trouble with Stalin. When the Sov...  more »


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All Artists: Dmitri Shostakovich, Mstislav Rostropovich, Galina Vishnevskaya, Nicolai Gedda
Title: Shostakovich: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: EMI Classics
Original Release Date: 1/1/1979
Re-Release Date: 4/9/2002
Album Type: Limited Edition, Original recording remastered
Genre: Classical
Style: Opera & Classical Vocal
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaCD Credits: 2
UPC: 724356777927

Written between 1930 and 1932, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was one of the most brilliant achievements of Shostakovich's long career. It was also the work that got him into trouble with Stalin. When the Soviet leader attended a performance in Moscow in 1936, almost two years after the opera's acclaimed Leningrad premiere, he personally ordered the publication of a scathing article in Pravda ("Muddle Instead of Music"), unleashing a ruthless campaign to reduce the arts in Soviet Russia to a state of dogmatic subservience to the regime. Lady Macbeth would disappear from the repertory for 30 years, and Shostakovich, despite his great gifts for opera, would focus his attention on symphonic and chamber music instead. But what an opera this one was! Notwithstanding its title, it has nothing to do with Shakespeare's Macbeth and quite a lot to do with Dostoevsky (even though it's based on a story by another 19th-century writer, Nikolai Leskov). The plot has all the elements of a Russian epic--boredom, need, irresistible sexual longing, infidelity, murder, suicide--and the music is vintage Shostakovich, swinging between farce and tragedy with astonishing sureness, magnificently intense, deeply absorbing, yet approachable. The opera's climactic scenes are driven by music of incredible power, and there are pages of haunting lyric beauty as well, such as Katarina's aria in scene 3, or the extraordinary music that begins the love scene between Katarina and Sergey--mysterious, edgy, sensuous, and vast. It's all brought home on this recording, a labor of love from two of the composer's closest friends and greatest champions. Vishnevskaya, the great exponent of the role of Katarina, sings with untrammeled splendor, while Rostropovich, the supreme interpreter of the music of Shostakovich in our time, conducts a characterful, white-hot performance by the London Philharmonic. --Ted Libbey

CD Reviews

Stalin Didn't Like It Much!
Christopher Forbes | Brooklyn,, NY | 04/11/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Fewer works of opera have had such a troubled history and ruinous effect on a composer than Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Anyone familiar with the life of the composer knows the story. Shostakovitch was a brilliant young Leningrad based composer who was deeply involved with the radical intellectual movements of his time, particularly the theatrical work of Mayakovsky. He had scored an early brilliant success with his student project, the Symphony No. 1 and his raucous operatic treatment of Gogol's The Nose. The prospects looked bright and when Lady Macbeth premiered it was wildly successful....until Stalin say it! The next day an article appeared in Pravda entitled :Chaos Instead of Music" and Shostakovitch was officially in disgrace...a state that cause the composer to withdraw his dark and compelling 4th symphony and which didn't really ease until the war years and the success of his Lenigrad Symphony. (And of course was repeated again after the war.) The real shame of this is that Lady Macbeth is arguably one of the greatest modern works of the operatic stage, along with Wozzeck, Peter Grimes, and maybe a few other works by Britten and Janacek. The plot is primarily what angered Stalin...Lady Macbeth is a rather dark and erotic melodrama, which probably offended the former seminarian's latent puritanical sensibilities. Katerina, the opera's main character, is caught in a dull and lifeless marriage to a petty merchant. When she falls in love with a young worker, she first kills her father in law and then her husband. When discovered by the police, both she and her lover are sent to Siberia, where he abandons Katerina for another woman. Driven mad with jealousy and despair, Katerina pushes the other woman into a river, jumps in after her and both are drowned. The bare bones of the plot do not do justice to the power of the work. No character in the opera is virtuous...the murdered father-in-law secretly lusts after Katerina, the husband is a whimpering whiner, the lover is shallow and a real brute, and Katerina herself is vicious in the extreme. However, Shostakovitch garners real sympathy for Katerina in the marvelous musical depiction of the utter despair and boredom of her life...the almost helplessness of her seduction, and the barbarity of both her father-in-law and her husband. The work can almost be read as a proto-feminist tragedy, except that Shostakovitch still clearly abhors all of this characters' behavior. It is also not a long stretch to see in the trauma of Katerina a portrait of Stalinist society. Repressed, held back by convention and ultimately crushing boredom (a trait familiar from much Russian literature) Katerina is almost a symbol for the sickness that artists saw eating away Russian society at it's core.The work moves dizzyingly from tragedy to satire to pathos. Scenes involving the peasants are broadly ribald...almost shockingly so. The scenes of the police station are really a thinly veiled satire on the state of Soviet justice and the petty nature of officialdom. Katerina's mad scene, when her dead father-in-law haunts her has the drama of Mussorgsky. And in the final scene, as the prisoners trudge to Siberia, you know that everyone in the audience must have felt the resonance with the political events of the time. This scene has a depth that goes beyond the story on the stage and is clearly projected in the music. It is as powerful as the end of Janacek's House of the Dead or the Forest Scene in Boris. All of the composer's talent is employed in this work...this is Shostakovitch at his highest and most impressive. It's a work that burns itself into your brain, much like the work of Dostoevsky or Bulgakov. This performance can only be considered a classic. Recorded by Rostropovitch after the revival of the work in the 70s in it's original form (as opposed to the reworking the opera recieved in the 50s at the hands of the composer....a reworking that cut much of the political bite of the original) The opera stars Rostrapovitch's wife Galina Vishnevskaya as the heroine. Though I am not an unbridled fan of the singer...her slavic "hoot" sometimes gets on my nerves...she is marvelous in this role and a really talented vocal actress. She is by turns, pathetic, bathetic, sarcastic, cruel and finally tragic. Also impressive in the cast is Nicolai Gedda, who looses just a bit of his customary honeyed tone in his turn as the shallow Sergey. Rostropovitch is a conductor I generally don't care for. He is a marvelous cellist, but I've heard too many National Symphony Orchestra concerts where he had no control over balances and let the brass and percussion drowned out everything else. But in Shostakovitch and Prokofiev...(and Britten actually) he is superlative on the whole. This is a great example of that. Rostrapovitch has lived everything in this music and it shows. This is a must-have CD for any opera fan or any fan of Shostakovitch. And if you count yourself as neither, it is still a powerful artistic statement on the effects of repression on the human soul. Certainly, it stands with the very finest in the Russian operatic tradition."
Great Recording of a Great Performance
Timothy Dougal | Madison, Wi United States | 09/22/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"First, I must alert readers to more reviews of this recording in its earlier CD incarnation available farther down the list here on Amazon. This 2-disc, 2 1/2 hour set is re-remastered on EMI's new Prism SNS system. To my ears, it's sound is just about perfect. Beyond that, this performance of the opera that changed Shostakovich's life, led by Rostropovich from the podium and his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, in the starring role, is intensely charged from beginning to end. As for the opera itself, it is very interesting, something of an expanded version of the sprawling 4th Symphony which followed it, exhibiting a similar athematic abandon, eclecticism of genres (from fugue and passacaglia to circus-like music and austere modernism, for instance), and huge climactic passages. It is both exciting and moving. The title may be a little misleading as to nature of Katerina Ismailova, the leading character. To me she seems to combine elements of Clytemnestra, Manon Lescaut and Emma Bovary, to fatal effect for those in her way. This set great modern operatic experience."
Still the top recording of this opera beyond all doubt!!!
Alexander Z. Damyanovich | Flesherton, Ontario, Canada | 06/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Since other people have already described the opera's content quite reasonably well cumulatively, I'll simply re-affirm and underscore their recommendations especially relative to the other two recordings I've heard of this piece: Gjórgijev (on with his Kiróv-Mariínskiy Opera Company - NB, this recording of a live performance at London's Barbican Hall is not for commercial sale and needs a good internet connection to be properly appreciated) and Chung (on Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft initially, now Decca/London).

Those who don't like Vishñévskaja's voice, in my opinion, will still find her much more classy and appealing - as well as orthodox in treating her part - compared to Ewing on the Chung recording. Although both take a few liberties with the occasional note and/or rhythm, there's no question that Vishñévskaja is far more convincing, respectful of the composer's intentions and tasteful (that she studied the part with Shostakóvich himself {they were very close friends!} is so obvious as to defy any attempt at refutation) - not to mention that her approach to the rôle is much more convincing. The same applies to Rostropóvich, even though brass-haters might gravitate to Chung on that basis (here the brass really let rip, though nobody is slighted all the same!). [It should be pointed out that - like his wife Vishñévskaja - Rostropóvich was also a close friend of the composer and who in the world première of the expurgated version "Katjerína Izmáylova" in 1963 actually served as the principal 'cellist of the orchestra as one of several friends corraled to bolster what otherwise was not a first-rate ensemble (sufficiently bad so as to make Shostakóvich quite worried)!] The seal of authenticity is simply impossible to shake from this recording even though DGG has a somewhat clearer sound on their product allowing more detail to come across at times (and Chung has to also get credit no doubt too for that extra-transparent sound there). No question that I find Petkov much more sinister compared to Haugland with Chung as the evil, incestuously lecherous father-in-law Borís (quite aside from Chung encouraging all his singers to think more along the lines of "Sprechstimme" to the point of abuse!) - and here Haugland is more in his element as the Police Sergeant. A nice surprise worth also mentioning in retrospect is the exceptionally-good Russian pronunciation of Werner Krenn as Zinóviy, who gets some of the consonants better than virtually all the other singers on this recording - ironic given that the rôle he sings is that of such a pathetic wimp (shows one or two decent instincts but is so totally overruled by his evil father!). All in all, although some details occasionally get muddied up (e.g., Borís's first entry in ghost-form momentarily obliterates the woodwinds on this recording), this reading is far more compelling in every way (and it shows just how every bit of Shostakóvich's vocal writing is eminently singable - contrasted to the complaints of his first singers before Stáljin banned the opera outright, as Vishñévskaja relates in her autobiography "Galina: A Russian Story").

Don't hesitate, anybody who reads this and wants to explore this opera (especially for the first time!!!): THIS is the recording to get!!!! Afterwards you can also check out the other two or more that may be around; but even a seasoned Lady-Macbeth "lover" like me gravitates back to this recording each and every time without fail!

PS., The DGG Chung recording has been re-released (this time on the Decca/London label), coupled with 3 CDs of the same composer's lieder, many of which are sung by some of the same singers who're in Chung's cast for the opera recording. My caution against some of Chung's things has to apply with the re-issue, naturally, although at a budget price it is a very fine 2nd choice - but Rostropóvich remains the FIRST, out and away!!!). [Not knowing the lieder and those recordings coupled with the Chung opera-recording, judgement can't there be issued...]"