Concert, DVD, Film & Theatre Reviews 45

Ausrine Stundyte (Katerina) and John Daszak (Sergei)

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon
Excelling with Tcherniakov

“Katerina, a figure of almost Dostoyevskian proportions,” read one review. Early 2016 and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk came to Eastern France in the same production Dmitry Tcherniakov had trialled in Düsseldorf in 2008, and reworked for his 2015 Anglo-Lyonnais co-production with the English National Opera. The Russian director retained the majority of the staging, which relocates Leskov’s nineteenth-century tale of suffocating lechery and murder to a contemporary milieu. The action takes place in and around the clinical environment of a factory warehouse, which is run by the growling, lumbering, lecherous Boris Izmailov—splendidly sung in this production by bass Vladimir Ognovenko. His voice, huge and menacing, epitomises the power-hungry man that he is.

If in London the first scene’s silences and longueurs were discomfiting, here in Lyon they lent an extra layer of dramatic intensity to the unfolding scenario. Again the “bedroom” was represented by a small alcove, bedecked with oriental rugs, lit from within, but this “mechanism” was lent much more credibility in this performance thanks to soprano Ausrine Stundyte’s keenly-felt espousal of Katerina’s deep visceral instincts. She is encaged, she is left emotionally and sexually immobile, and she acts and sings with a macabre and intense realism that marry her actions, throughout the opera, to this most doomed of pairs, of couples in lust.

As in London, tenor John Daszak projected a shockingly un-beautiful, lascivious Sergei, who was at all times convincing in his dramatic mannerisms and vocal dexterities. Here in Lyon some of the less fluid, clumsier on-stage pranks were changed, or dispensed with (notably in the Aksinya rape scene), adding a degree of dynamism and tension to the initial exchanges between Katerina and Sergei. And Stundyte’s intensely sensual depiction, amidst tumbling hair, of a desperate search for corporal intimacy was intensely convincing, heralding her liaison with Sergei and their inevitably disastrous fall.

In the end, Katerina remains a creature of abject cruelty in her actions, but who nevertheless provokes sympathy in her audience, and in this respect, Tcherniakov plays superbly on the bestiality that resides in all of us and which here confronts us head on; however, I stand by my evaluation of the ENO finale from the 2015 production: Tcherniakov’s Siberia, confined to a single cell, deprives Shostakovich’s opera of its abyss-black conclusion.

On the musical front, the score was masterfully managed by Kazushi Ono with the house orchestra. From their renaissance-sized pit, their colours were warm throughout and yet, where needed, icy and morbid. The exceptional work done by chorus director Philip White also deserves recognition: sixty singers who were at all times powerful, united, and full of colour.

Producer/designer: Dmitry Tcherniakov. Musical Director: Kazushi Ono. Chorus director: Philip White. Costumes: Elena Zaitseva. Lighting: Gleb Filshtinsky.
Katerina: Ausrine Stundyte. Sergei: John Daszak. Boris Timofeyevich: Vladimir Ognovenko. Zinovy Borisovich: Peter Hoare. Priest: Gennady Bezzubenkov. Chief of Police: Almas Svilpa. Shabby Peasant: Jeff Martin. Sonyetka: Michaela Selinger. Aksinya: Clare Presland.

Alan Mercer