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Blog // Thoughts
March 2, 2009

Hong Kong Arts Festival – Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk

Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is a bleak and challenging modern opera, which although originally read as a sharp satire of Pre-Soviet Russia, soon fell out of favour after Stalin’s criticism of it’s dissonance and social chaos. This staging brings the opera into a modern, post-Soviet period of decay. It’s a qualified success, since the […]

Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is a bleak and challenging modern opera, which although originally read as a sharp satire of Pre-Soviet Russia, soon fell out of favour after Stalin’s criticism of it’s dissonance and social chaos.

This staging brings the opera into a modern, post-Soviet period of decay. It’s a qualified success, since the story of petty and provincial power, lust and deceit speaks as well to our capitalist moment as it did to the original setting. On Friday night Latvian National Opera delivered a powerful and emotionally charged interpretation with some great singing (especially Olga Sergeyeva as Katerina and Samsons Izjumovs as Boris), a dynamic ensemble and a commanding performance by the orchestra under director Gintaras Rinkevicius.

My only quarrel is that the opera really fell away in the final detention camp scene. After a long delay where the audience was kept in their seats while the stage was reset, we were met with a dimly lit setting, reminiscent of a gulag. This was historically powerful, but in some ways the play felt as though it was being transported backwards in time. On one level, this worked as a “same as always” criticism of modern Russia, but on another it broke the dynamics of the opera and in turn, the power of the petty squabble over socks that provides a dark epilogue to the story.

Disappointingly, the auditorium was well below full. Perhaps the potential audience was split, since the excellent Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir were playing at the same time in the adjacent Concert Hall. However, a showpiece Friday night opera should be able to fill a venue in a city the size of Hong Kong.

This is especially the case since, following the 100th anniversary of Shostakovich’s birth in 2006, there has been a revival around the world, both of scholarly interest in his life and work and the staging of his music. Perhaps if the festival organisers had connected Hong Kong audiences more with the global interest and debate around the composer’s work, it might have helped fill the auditorium?

[tags] Hong Kong Arts Festival, Latvian National Opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk [/tags]

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