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The opera “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” by Dmitri Shostakovich

Lady Macbeth

The opera “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District”, or as it was also called “Katerina Ismailova”, from the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, is one of the most controversial works of the Soviet era. To this day “Lady Macbeth” is of great interest to researchers and directors.

History of the most controversial opera “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk”

Looking at the illustrations for the book by Russian writer Leskov”Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District”, who depicted the main character as a predatory landowner-murderer who taunted her loved ones, Dmitri Shostakovich decided to write an opera using this storyline.

However, the image of the main heroine as a sophisticated killerwas not acceptable for the young composer and also librettist Preiss who was supervising work on the opera. Together they redefined Katerina’s motives and gave her the image of a victim of the harsh merchant system. They explained her actions as a protest against bullying.

It was during the writing of the opera “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” when Shostakovich began a whirlwind romance with his future wife, who was very strong and proud woman much like the main character. Perhaps that is why the Russian composer dedicated the opera to her. Dmitri and Nina got married 7 months before the composer finished work on the opera in 1932.

“Lady Macbeth of the MtsenskDistrict” is a unique work of art in the opera world. Here, in a single art space, the action is as if divided into two parallel worlds. On the one hand, the plot is realistic: a psychological drama unfolds on the stage. But, on the other hand, the composer sometimes moves the opera into the sphere of allegory.

Hardships for the opera and the composer

The opera “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” was a huge success, and for the first six months after the premiere it was staged 36 times gathering full houses. The opera was also staged abroad: in New York, Prague, Stockholm and London. But in 1936, during the premiere in Moscow, which also was a great success, the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin came to see it. A very frivolous opera angered him, and not waiting for the end of the opera, he left the theater.

Soon after in press despicable criticism of the opera was written, and the opera was banned. It was believed that the devastating article entitled “Muddle instead of music” was written by Stalin himself. And the piece of that article Shostakovich began carrying with him in a plastic bag in his chest pocket like an “anti-talisman.” Shostakovich never recovered from the blow that was dealt to the composer by banning a successful opera.

It was only during the Khrushchev “thawing period” in the 1960s that the opera “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” has been returned to the stage with a new staging and new name. And in 1967, based on the opera “Katerina Ismailova” the first movie was filmed with a wide stereo sound.

The best opera by Dmitri Shostakovich, the same as the main heroine of the opera, was dealt a harsh fate. But having overcome all the obstacles, this tragic work of art from a genius composer is still to this day one of the most favorite operas among the directors of modern theaters around the world.

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