Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Op.29 – Opera in four acts and nine scenes

Katerina Lvovna Izmaylova – Larisa Gogolevskaya
Boris Trimofeyevich Izmailov – Sergei Alexashkin
Zinovy Borisovich Izmailov – Evgeny Akimov
Sergei – Viktor Lutsiuk
Coachman / Shabby Peasant – Vassily Gorshkov
Aksinya – Tatiana Kravtsova
Mill-hand / First Foreman – Andrei Popov
Porter – Grigory Karasev
Steward / Third Foreman – Alexander Gerasimov
Second Foreman – Vasily Gorshkov
Priest – Mikhail Petrenko
Police Sergeant – Vadim Kravets
Policeman – Ilya Bannik
Teacher – Andrei Popov
Old Convict – Gennady Bezzubenkov
Sentry – Ilya Bannik
Sonyetka – Olga Savova
Woman convict – Tatiana Kravtsova
Officer – Alexander Gerasimov

Chorus and Orchestra of the Mariinsky (Kirov) Theatre, St Petersburg
Valery Gergiev

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 20 August, 2006
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Concert performances of operas, by which I mean performances with a line-up of soloists rather than a semi-staged recreation of a production, can sometimes be rather curious affairs that bring both benefits and deficiencies.

The benefits are that one has a chance to hear much orchestral detail in a focus not often allowed by a cramped theatre pit, in that the orchestra is permitted a layout that allows the individual sections or instruments both floor and acoustic space. This was certainly the case here where some of the myriad subtleties of Shostakovich’s orchestration were heard as if new or afresh in the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra’s totally committed and idiomatic performance. In addition singers are often freed from the trammels and restrictions of costume, make-up, scenic sound-absorbers and directorial whims, and can concentrate on interpreting the drama through vocal means alone.

This is a double-edged sword – some singers are better at dramatic coloration of their tone than others, and some singer-actors can sometimes fail to impress in parts where they excel on stage as they need the whiff of greasepaint to fully realise their interpretations. And of course a good staging can complement the music to intensify the musical effects – and in the UK at least both English National Opera and Royal Opera have delivered two superbly theatrical and very different productions of this work in the last 15 or so years. If some of the interludes failed to make the recalled impact they had in past productions this was certainly not due to the playing of the orchestra which was exemplary.

In this performance most of the pitfalls were avoided – as the cast all seemed very much ‘at home’ in their roles, presumably resulting from long stage acquaintance – and some of them have recently appeared at the London Coliseum in the ‘other’ version of the work, “Katerina Izmaylova”, earlier this summer.

There were some outstanding vocal contributions – and one must mention the heroine first of all. Larisa Gogolevskaya gave a superbly sung account of the role and managed to sing her lyrical lines and her dramatically stretching ones with an astonishing beauty of tone and left the impression that there were no terrors in this music. With an economy of gesture and a stillness of demeanour she also managed to deliver a very intense portrayal in dramatic terms; it was a shame, then, that the moment of calm that follows the brooding and desperate ‘aria’ that culminates Katerina’s part was interrupted by some thoroughly insensitive and intrusive applause.

Other fine portrayals included Sergei Alexashkin’s secure Boris. He was standing in for an indisposed Vladimir Ognovenko, and delivered his part with true bass authority. It could be argued his tones and overall interpretation lacked the menace that the part can take and ideally requires. He’s been a big part of the UK’s Russian opera summer with performances with the Mariinsky and at Glyndebourne over the last few months.

Of the two tenors Evgeny Akimov turned his big and slightly Italianate timbre to the weak and vacillating Zinovy as he had at the Coliseum earlier in July, and Viktor Lutsiuk sang an occasionally erratic Sergei – perhaps not quite enough allure in the voice but that surely suits the character of this shallow opportunist.

Of the rest of the cast mention must be made of Olga Savova’s richly sung and characterised Sonyetka, and Tatiana Kravtsova’s secure Aksinya and female convict. Mikhail Petrenko delivered a comic and engaging Priest – he’s becoming the Proms favourite of the season – and Vadim Kravets revealed a superbly focused and thrilling baritone as the Police Sergeant. One of the Mariinsky’s true troopers, Gennady Bezzubenkov, contributed a subtle cameo as the old convict – on checking back he sang Boris Trimofeyevich Izmailov in the last Gergiev London concert performance of this work in 1992, and also in the recent “Katerina Izmaylova”. The Mariinsky’s other troopers, the chorus, sang with customary zeal.

Gergiev’s conducting was very assured and which was freer of his own audible contributions – two nights earlier in his LSO performance of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony was somewhat marred for those standing in close proximity to him by his grunting and rasping throughout the performance.

This Proms performance provided an interesting comparison to the “Katerina Izmaylova” performances of July. The earlier version of the work as heard here at the Proms is the rawer, energetic and theatrically obvious form, whereas the later slightly compressed revision has a dramatic intensity that Lady Macbeth misses. Both are equally valid of course, and should be treated as separate works on the same story – rather like the various versions of Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov”. Perhaps as he did for ‘Boris’, Gergiev should record both ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Katerina’ as a double issue. It would be great if Gogolevskaya’s Katerina was committed to disc.

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