By Eric Sweeney
First premiered in 1994 and last seen in 2000, The Metropolitan Opera resurrects their production of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk still looking modern and, by MET terms, “edgy.”
Eva-Marie Westbroek lends her luxurious heroic soprano to the role of Katerina Lvovna Ismailova, which she embodies much like she did the ditsy, low-brow Anna Nicole at ENO. Her singing, however, is unmistakably high-brow with its stunning even tone and effortlessly penetrating range–both vocal and dramatic.
The production itself juxtaposes the psychological horror of the story–which includes gang-rape, murder, and abuse–with an overtly bright and sunny Pop Art design by Paul Brown that has been inspired by mid-century American suburban living. The set boasts walls with bright blue sky and white fluffy clouds. AstroTurf acts as the carpet in Katarina’s house. Katarina is the sun around which the show revolves wearing a bright yellow dress. It makes a witty and interesting alternative to the more traditional drab rags and grey-tones.
Katarina’s drunken father-in-law Boris Timofeevitch Ismailov controls the house and Katarina with an iron fist while his son is away. Though at times sounding like an operatic foghorn, Anatoli Kotscherga excellently fits the role of a terrifying tyrant.
At times Graham Vick’s production focuses so much on sex–the raw animalistic variety–that he seems to have forgotten to make the characters at all relatable or sympathetic to the audience. In one scene, the male choristers and dancers ravenously run around the stage humping everything in sight, including each other, and eventually gang rape the female cook. Katarina makes a half-hearted statement to the crowd of men akin to “anything you can do I can do better.” This results in the suggestive wrestling between Katarina and Sergei(an impressive Brandon Jovanovich) and suddenly they are in love. Or at least lust.
The many Act I musical interludes, some of the most brilliant music written in the opera, seem to slow the narrative pace and get in the way of the story. This production is more interested in putting funny slap-stick routines into these moments than adding character development and allowing the audience to see more deeply into Katarina’s world.
Dmitri Shostakovitch’s music is played rapturously by the Met Opera Orchestra under the baton of New York native James Conlon. The music remains tonal, though has many angular moments. Some listeners might hear the kernels of modern day cinematic music. Shostakovitch even adds witty, suggestive effects to reflect whats happening on stage. The trombone slides while Katarina and Sergei feverishly have sex are unmistakable.
The Act IV performance by Dmitry Belosselskiy as an old convict stands out as one of the most breathtaking musical performances of the show. Belosselskiy’s beautiful bass boomed through the house and gave us one of the most moving performances of the night.
By the end, we aren’t in Katarina’s corner when her new husband Sergei quickly leaves her for a new, hot, young woman. Shouldn’t our hearts break when the man she has killed for so quickly dismisses her?
Ultimately, The MET’s production entertains its audience with visual theatrics and stunning vocal performances, and while leaving the viewer unmoved, makes an exciting evening at the opera.
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Photo: Metropolitan Opera