Opera: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk

By Picard, Anna | The Spectator, October 3, 2015 | Go to article overview

Opera: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk


Picard, Anna, The Spectator


Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk

Coliseum, in rep until 20 October

Lost in Thought: A Mindfulness Opera

LSO St Luke's

'Kiss me, Sergei! Kiss me hard! Kiss me until the icons fall and split!' sings Katerina Ismailova, adulterous antiheroine of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk . Stalin was not amused by Shostakovich's bleak black comedy but our culture would be poorer without bored wives like Katerina. Perhaps all that Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina and Laura Jesson needed was a proper kiss -- the sort that mutes the white noise of disappointment. But a kiss is never enough in these cautionary tales of bourgeois bed-hopping. One thing leads to another and before you know it you're knocking back the arsenic, throwing yourself in front of a train or back home listening to the wireless with poor dear Fred, a man whose kisses were never that hot.

Where Emma, Anna and Laura hedge and idle, Katerina hurtles headlong into lust, disgrace and murder. She is, in both senses, a fast woman. Yet the striking thing about her in Dmitri Tcherniakov's English National Opera production is her stillness -- a stillness mirrored in conductor Mark Wigglesworth's symphonic reading of a score blistered with frenzied dances. Moored in a thick, red womb of oriental carpets, Patricia Racette's Katerina holds a glittering concentrate of fury in her dark eyes and her finely tempered voice. To either side, secretaries and factory hands go about their business, checking orders, answering phones. The forklift truck comes into play later, in one of the cartoonish gang-bangs by which ENO's audience defines its tolerance. Less vivid an assault than that in Damiano Michieletto's Guillaume Tell , the rape/not-rape of Rosie Aldridge's blowsy Aksinya is also less transgressive than the moment when Katerina's father-in-law Boris (Robert Hayward) places his heavy wandering hand on her childless belly.

Boris is the first to go in Katerina's pheromone-fuelled killing spree, dispatched by poisoned mushrooms. Next up is Zinovy (Peter Hoare), her shrill, blank-firing husband. Neither is lamented until Adrian Thompson's Shabby Peasant notices the whiff emanating from the cellar. Nor is greedy, sulky Sergei (John Daszak) much of a catch: a small-town Casanova whose cold, dull eyes are sharp enough to notice a woman who is ripe for the plucking. Now veiled and in thrall, Katerina abases herself like a Magdalene, kissing Sergei's undeserving feet. Her desire burns brightly even in a distempered prison cell. Only when Sergei screws Sonyetka (Clare Presland) in front of her does she snap, killing the slut and herself, through the brutal agency of the prison guards. …

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