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Opera Latvian National Opera company on the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre
Dmitry Shostakovich "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk"

World famous Bolshoi Ballet and Opera theatre (established 1776) - Small Stage

Schedule for Latvian National Opera company on the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre
Dmitry Shostakovich "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk" 2022

Composer: Dmitry Shostakovich
Stage Director: Andrejs Zagars
Designer: Ieva Jurjane
Light Designer: Kevin Wyn-Jones
Choreography: Elita Bukovska
Choirmaster producer: Aigars Meri
Music Director: Gintaras Rinkevicius

Orchestra: Bolshoi Theatre Symphony Orchestra

Libretto by Dmitry Shostakovich and Alexander Preis
(revised by Dmitry Cilikin and Andrejs Ћagars)

Premiere in Leningrad Maly Theatre on January 22, 1934

Premiere at the Latvian National Opera on January 27, 2006


Setting: Minor town in Russia; in this staging – near the border with one of the new EU countries
Time: In original version – mid 19th century; in this staging – present day

Scene 1
The trader Zinovy Borisovich Izmaylov’s young wife Katerina spends her days in her husband’s house in boredom and loneliness. Her father in-law Boris Timofejevich repeatedly reproaches her for not having given his son an heir after five years of marriage. Zinovy arrives together with the new worker Sergey who he has just engaged. Zinovy prepares to leave; a dam has broken at the mill. Boris forces the household to ceremoniously bid farewell to the departing boss, and Katerina to swear faithfulness to her husband before a holy picture. When everyone has gone, Aksinya tells Katerina all about Sergey – no woman can resist him.

Scene 2
Taking advantage of the absence of the boss, the workers of the Izmaylov household indulge in revelries, including making advances to Aksinya. Katerina intervenes threatening to punish the initiator Sergey. He jokingly offers to wrestle with her. At the highpoint, Boris arrives, shoos the workers back to work but threatens Katerina that he will tell Zinovy about the incident.

Scene 3
Katerina idles in her bedroom. Suddenly her loneliness is interrupted by Sergey. He asks her for something to read, beginning a conversation about the cruel destiny of women. Summoning up his courage, he embraces Katerina, who after a short moment of indecision gives in to his advances.

Scene 4
Boris can’t sleep. Wandering through the house he remembers how in his youth he would wander below the windows of unknown women and how occasionally he would also climb in. He decides to climb into his daughter-in-law’s but sees that Sergey is climbing out of it. Boris catches him and summons the household. Boris beats Sergey up in front of Katerina and locks him in the warehouse. Exhausted from the exertion he demands to be served mushrooms for dinner. Katerina gives him his dinner dosed with rat poison. The old man writhes in agony and Katerina takes the keys to the warehouse from him. Katerina explains to the priest who has arrived to administer to the suffering man that he has eaten mushrooms and that many people who eat mushrooms, die.

Scene 5
Sergey is troubled by Zinovy’s imminent return. He doesn’t want to be Katerina’s secret lover. Katerina reassures him, but she herself is troubled – for she see Boris’ ghost who curses his poisoner. Barely audible steps can be heard beyond the door – Zinovy is returning. Katerina hides her lover. Having spied a man’s belt, Zinovy starts to hit Katerina. Sergey emerges from his hiding place and together they kill Zinovy and hide the body.

Scene 6
It’s Katerina’s and Sergey’s wedding day, the bride, however, is gloomy – the recent crimes don’t give her peace. When the newlyweds depart for the church, a dishevelled peasant appears. Searching for something to drink, he breaks into the cellar, finds Zinovy’s corpse and runs off to inform the authorities.

Scene 7
The wedding feast. The drunken guests with the priest at their head sing praises to the newlyweds. Suddenly Katerina notices that the cellar had been broken into. She decides to escape with Sergey, but it’s too late. Katerina willingly offers her wrists for handcuffs as the police arrive. Sergey however still tries to escape but he is apprehended. The newlyweds are taken off to prison.

Scene 8
The detention camp. Katerina pines for Sergey. She implores the guard to let her be with her love, but Sergey cruelly rejects her accusing her of being responsible for their plight. He himself steals away to be with another inmate, Sonyetka Sergey tries to win her heart but the girl demands new stockings. Sergey slyly cajoles stockings from Katerina and immediately gives them to Sonyetka. The other prisoners mock the rejected woman. The guard establishes order but Katerina can no longer make sense of her surroundings. She goes to Sonyetka, kills her, and kills herself as well.

  • Characters and performers

    Contempt and Sympathy

    This opera intrigues me as a director by two aspects of equal importance – I am fascinated by the emotional music throughout which runs a current of passion, and it’s interesting for me to work with a twisted story and powerful drama. Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” unites both of these qualities. The composer’s seemingly paradoxical temperament of youth united with a deeply felt depth of character and understanding of relationships in the music is especially fascinating. Shostakovich has revealed to us something essential about the deeper layers of the human psyche, about the energy of hidden sensuality, sexuality and the instinctive yearning for happiness that lurks therein. This is what makes this work especially close to me.

    The 100 th anniversary of Shostakovich that will be celebrated throughout the world is not just a formal mark of “dignified respect for a significant historical composer”. In fact, quite the opposite is true – even now, thirty years after his death, Shostakovich is one of our contemporaries. And that is what we would like to show in this production. The setting of Nikolai Leskov’s story “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” is the 1860s. The libretto of the opera written by the composer and Alexander Preis is true to this time. The music however, notwithstanding the presence of folkloristic ally Russian motifs and intonation sounds completely contemporary. This opera has none of the rules assumption of the traditional operatic genre which usually highlights but at the same time simplifies and lessens the impact of heroic actions and tribulations of the soul. This music is as complex as life itself. And even more so – the life of modern man with all its paradoxes, the diversity in meanings of good and evil when the social good often turns into being the personal existential evil, when love only deepens loneliness, and the sensual not only discourages the depth of the soul but actually cripples it.

    And this is what happens to our protagonist.

    How does Leskov’s Katerina differ from Shostakovich’s Katerina? Leskov’s brilliant prose still gives no insight into what is going on in Katerina’s soul – and does she even have a soul as perhaps this is all about a yearning born of unsatisfied flesh. The authors observe her from afar. In Shostakovich’s music we feel something entirely different – thanks to that, we feel in our hearts everything that happens to Katrina, and this unmistakeable sympathy the composer has for the heroine is another aspect in this work I relate to. The same as for Shostakovich, for me she is no Lady Macbeth – a cold-blooded murderess who arranges her life walking over the dead bodies of her fellow human beings. She is a victim – another one of those countless lives broken by the absurdity of this existence in Mtsensk. I see her as the embodiment of a fragile femininity, ground down by a rough, callous “men’s” world. This does not however exonerate Katerina – she is a tragic figure, murdering others she essentially murders herself.

    Because this woman is psychologically so close and understandable for us, I wanted to bring her even closer, for example, story-wise. That is why we transposed the action to today. Actually this is a well trodden path. In the last 15 years when the greater part of the former Soviet Union returns to the capitalism path and private business, trade, banking, mortgages and shares flourish, theatres rediscover with great satisfaction the plays of Ostrovsky, Saltikhov-Schedrin, Sukhovo-Kobilin, which mirror the development of capitalism in the second half of the 19 th century.

    Why ever not portray the well known trader Boris Timofeyevich Izmaylov as a contemporary trader, a small provincial town business man. And if Mtsensk, why not Pitalovo? He, a retired army officer who has scraped together some capital by selling illegally acquired army technology, stolen conserves from the quartermaster and army boots. Now, working for the customs services he invests the bribes into his business – a bakery, the only business still struggling for survival in an area which industry has long since deserted, the houses rotting, but their inhabitants methodically drunk. A former military man, Boris has brought the manners of the garrison to the family home, bringing up his son accordingly. Zinovy has therefore grown up cowardly and inconstant, often running away from home. Away from the power of his father, doing business, or on a drinking binge in some regional town, or just cruising the highway in a BMW, he finally feels like a man instead of a boy. The marriage to Katerina is another kind of escape. An attempt to change his status in his father’s house by assuming the role of a husband however fails.

    As for Katya, she was born and brought up in a provincial Russian town in a modest Soviet family which recent historical events have turned into penury: there is no work, no money and no future. Marriage at the age of 19 seems like a life saver – the only way of escaping from the doom of her social milieu, but in place of the much hoped for respite, this marriage simply leads her into a new kind of hell and becomes her life’s greatest misfortune – her husband turns out to be impotent, but the despotic father-in-law gains himself another victim. In the true sense of the word, because soon after her arrival in the Izmaylov home she has been raped by her father-in-law and this horror weighs her heart like a stone all the five years since she lives in Izmailov’s house. So she dwells there – in hopeless boredom and constant fear, while Katerina’s spirit yearns even more for barely articulated tenderness, she is torn apart by her desire for family life and an unfulfilled maternal instinct. As the curtain opens, she has never experienced love but is hungry for it – life is about to give her some crushing revelations.

    The shift of the story to a distant town where the Soviet lifestyle has been preserved unchanged in a warped version, with the reality of current life made us choose the most explicit of all the versions of the text. The Leskov story takes place in the Mtsensk region where life, of course, is dirty and brutal but it is still the 19 th century where people form early childhood have been brought up with Christian values. In our production on the other hand, a deep terrible spiritual hopelessness prevails where any understanding of God or sin has been long lost – hardly surprising that former communists take up Christianity and celebrate Easter and the 1 st of May in tandem. That is why I believe that our version will not be overtly shocking. It’s only a tool with which to provide the overriding image of this production with its true colours.

    Andrejs Zagars, Director

    Schedule for Latvian National Opera company on the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre
    Dmitry Shostakovich "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk" 2022

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