The Mariinsky brought their operatic offering to a climax with the two pieces that Shostakovich composed during the thaw after Stalin's death. Not that these works are evidence of any creative explosion under Khrushchev.
Moscow, Cheryomushki is a faceless Soviet operetta, Katerina Ismailova a (quite elaborate) revision of the earlier Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Katerina has its champions as a distinct, mature version - including the Mariinsky's musical director, Valery Gergiev. But it can't be said that this stolid, prim staging argues its virtues with conviction. It rings like an echo of the time that bore it, an age of nervy freedoms, tight lips and a terror of excess.
It's a cliché, but true, that this tale of a bored provincial merchant's wife who allows herself to be seduced by a farm worker, poisons her father-in-law and batters her husband to death, is a young man's opera. Shostakovich was 25 or so when he penned it, and it bursts with the energy of a talent equal to any technical challenge but utterly unversed in self-discipline. Music of overpowering emotional and physical intensity does battle with cheap parody and crude literalism. The bed music is both the coarsest and some of the best. Much of it was cut from Katerina, which thus becomes perfunctory at the very core of the drama.
The production by Irina Molostova seems affected. Stylish enough in its grim portrait of a provincial Russian estate of the 1850s, it completely funks the big coups that Shostakovich made so much of musically: the murders, the seduction, the sexual bullying of the cook Aksinya, Katerina's suicide on the road to Siberia - all fall as flat as yesterday's tonic water. The vodka strengths are few; they include Olga Sergeyeva's cool, sardonic Katerina, warmly sung, though revealing a passionate nature ready to break out at the first provocation; and especially the orchestral playing under Gergiev.
Cheryomushki is a 1950s romp about corruption in the Soviet housing market. The Mariinsky did it semi-staged, with transparent backcloth, a few props and the cast in street clothes. Good, forgettable fun, with Tatiana Pavlovskaya outstanding as the lovelorn museum guide, but Shosta-kovich's Magic Flute it ain't.
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