And we are blessed in London with many a production that, like the meal you cook where the starter, main and cheese go well but the meringue sinks, is terrific overall, even if with the occasional dip. So it is always an extra treat to come across a production where every course is perfect.
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was highly praised at its first performance in 1934, but within two years it fell foul of the Soviet authorities – and its composer, Dmitri Shostakovich, fell dangerously out of favour. For a while it was given in a sanitised version; now fully restored to the repertoire, Lady Macbeth sheds light once more on a dark period, with black comedy at the expense of authoritarianism.
Bored and frustrated housewife Katerina takes a lover, Sergey. When Katerina’s bullying, lecherous father-in-law, Boris, discovers them, Katerina poisons him, and so sets out on a ruthless and murderous path. Killing her husband Zinovy, she marries Sergey, but at the wedding there is a terrible discovery...
Richard Jones's production for the Royal Opera House in 2004 predates Weinstein and company, so the demeaning behaviour of Boris and of the family's firms male workers becomes more repellant than ever in this excellent revival. Veteran baritone John Tomlinson marking his 40 years at Covent Garden as Boris gives this creep everything he's got, which is a lot.
The outstanding cast is headed by the dramatic Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek, whose Katerina sings with all the passion denied in her home life. American tenor Brandon Jovanovich, making his Royal Opera debut as Sergey, her heartless lover, is wonderfully shifty, and the British tenor John Daszak makes husband Zinovy a feeble drip.
Polish bass Wojtek Gierlach makes his impressive ROH debut as the Priest, and Russian mezzo-soprano Aigul Akhmetshina, who made such an impact in the title role of La Tragédie de Carmen, is eye-catching and firm-voiced as Sergey's next conquest, Sonyetka.
Shostakovich's black comedy, informed by his own clouded experience, is strong meat: the sexual humiliation of the cook is nasty at every level, and not everyone will find the beheading of Zinovy laugh-out-loud funny. But Richard Jones follows in the British tradition of Kind Hearts and Coronets and Joe Orton's farces, and with the help of this stellar cast and chorus, gets away with murder.
Antonio Pappano conducting the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House brings to light, as he so often does, every colour, nuance, seasoning and musical reference in Shostakovich's rich score. If you love the symphonies, you will hear much of their fierce majesty here.
And it's not often you want the wallpaper to take a bow, but the scene in which Katerina's horrid little room is transformed into an opulent bower with a nifty on-stage make-over is a terrific theatrical joke, carried off with the help of designer John Macfarlane.
This production will stay in the repertoire for years to come. If you don't catch it this time, watch out for its next run, and keep your fingers crossed that Westbroek will again be the one getting the decorators in.
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is sung in Russian with English surtitles. Running time is 3 hours and 20 minutes, including one interval.
|What||Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk review , Royal Opera House|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
12 Apr 18 – 27 Apr 18, 7:00 PM – 10:30 PM
|Price||£6 - £125|
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|