Idiots at the Opera Go to Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk
Katerina a big blonde bombshell (sung by Eva-Marie Westbroek, the original Anna Nicole) is bored. Her wealthy merchant husband can’t give her a baby and neglects her for his business. Her father-in-law, Boris, is controlling, rude, and crude.
She starts screwing one of the workers, Sergei, who may have been fired from a previous job for sleeping with the boss’ wife. Then she poisons Boris. Her husband comes home from a business trip and finds Sergei’s belt in the bedroom. Katerina and Sergei kill him and hide his body.
She’s now a wealthy widow. (It’s not explained how they cover her husband’s disappearance.) She and Sergei plan a wedding feast which gets interrupted by the police after a drunk finds the body. On the long march to Siberia, Sergei takes up with another. Katerina and her rival fight and are last seen drowning and being swept up in a river.
Despite the title, Katerina is no Lady MacBeth. Verdi’s Lady MacBeth as played by Ana Netrebko would have eaten her alive. Lady MacBeth was motivated by power and ambition. Katerina is just bored out of her mind and horny. She’s not even a world-class schemer like everybody’s favorite noir-heroine, Phyllis Dietrichson of Double Indemnity. She’s much closer Cora of the Postman Always Rings Twice, although even Cora seemed to plan things out better.
Shostakovich’s opera is satiric — funny in that deeply Russian way that knows what it is to suffer. There’s something about the sensibility that feels familiar. What we think of as “Jewish humor” may simply be Eastern European. It’s no accident that Mel Brooks and Woody Allen are both fans of Russian literature. The plot of Lady MacBeth is far more realistic than in Shostakovich’s fantastical fable, The Nose, which we caught last year, but there are absurd elements here too, which the staging in this most excellent and playful production highlights.
The music, which offended Stalin enough to sink the already successful show and almost sink Shostakovich, is very well matched to the action on stage, whether it’s in the concrete vulgarity of the trombone during Sergei and Katerina’s first sexual encounter, or the waltziness when the workers extoll their wonderful boss.
Conductor James Conlon led an orchestra that was absolutely in sync with the singers and the antics. Ms Westbroek who we had seen a couple of years ago as Francesca da Rimini – another woman living among men who gives in to her lust – has a big dramatic voice and ably handled the singing, the comedy and the drama of the evening. The Met chorus was also well-utilized and stellar. In addition to Ms Westbroek, another standout was Antoli Kotscherga as Boris, though frankly all the singers were great.
If you love opera, of course you should catch this extremely well-realized production. If you love theater you should as well. There are only two more performances left – this coming Tuesday and Saturday. There are plenty of seats for both. You could even test out the Met’s latest version of rush tickets and get $25 orchestra seats!
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