Ingo Metzmacher

Schostakowitsch: Lady Macbeth von Mzensk

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After Joseph Stalin denounced Dmitry Shostakovich's 1934 opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in 1936, it disappeared from the stage until the composer made a sanitized revision, Katerina Izmaylova, that appeared in 1962, almost a decade after Stalin's death. It's gratifying that since the original version of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District was brought to light in the late 1970s it has achieved the status of a classic and performers can approach it with a familiarity that allows them to probe its depths with ever-increasing subtlety and understanding. That is certainly the case in this recording of a live 2009 performance at the Vienna State Opera led by Ingo Metzmacher. There has sometimes been a tendency for conductors to allow the coarseness of the story to justify an account of the score characterized by rough-hewn, grotesque extremes, but this performance is notable for the exceptional refinement and tonal beauty of the playing of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. Metzmacher pays close attention to the composer's exquisitely calibrated orchestral palette and reveals its moments of genuine beauty. In his thoughtful reading, the third scene of the first act, in Katerina's bedroom, for instance, is a ravishing, atmospheric nocturne. In the opera's tricky opening scene, Metzmacher and soprano Angela Denoke pull off the practically impossible feat of evoking Katerina's boredom and lethargy without letting the music become boring or lethargic. He doesn't hold back in the opera's most brutal music, conveying Shostakovich's acid irony with idiomatic panache, and the scenes that express the depth of the characters' tragedy have a staggering monumentality. Denoke, who has made a secure name for herself in the classics of early modern opera -- Berg, Janácek, Hindemith, Strauss, Korngold -- has an opulent, variegated voice and she inhabits the role of Katerina with breathtaking immediacy. She has a worthy partner in tenor Misha Didyk, who's fully convincing vocally and dramatically as Sergey, a role notoriously difficult to pull off, and the two of them have real chemistry; it's easy to see how their impulsive passion leads them into a spiraling series of stupidly irrational acts. Kurt Rydl is a towering presence as Boris, vocally powerful and ferociously malevolent. The remaining roles are beautifully filled, as well, so the production feels very much like an ensemble piece, not just a showcase for its stars, as excellent as they are. The only disappointment is Dan Paul Dumitrescu as the Old Convict, a small role but one that's crucial in the opera's climactic final scene. He is merely adequate where he needs the kind of authoritative presence and vocal gravity required of a Boris Godunov. The album has the usual acoustic drawbacks of a live performance -- less than immaculate sound and some stage and audience noise -- but they are more than compensated for by the feverish energy and propulsive dramatic momentum of the performance. This is a version that any fan of the opera will want to investigate, and it would make a compelling introduction to the masterpiece for anyone who doesn't demand state-of-the-art acoustic perfection.

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