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    Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Opera by D. Shostakovich

    Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Opera by D. Shostakovich

    In one of his best-known plays, Shakespeare had seemingly created the ultimate femme fatale; but when it comes to eliminating one’s rivals, it’s Dmitri Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth who owns the bragging rights. The Bard’s famous anti-heroine kills by proxy whereas Shostakovich’s Katerina Ismailova, the protagonist of the composer’s opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, is somewhat more direct.

    Fed up with her boorish husband, Zinovy, Katerina is discovered in bed with the brutish Sergei by her father-in-law, Boris. Furious that he didn’t get a chance to sleep with Katerina himself, he administers a beating to Sergei before devouring a plate of mushrooms that Katerina has laced with poison.

    With Boris out of the way, her husband is next. Katerina, with Sergei’s help, strangles Zinovy. But when the body is discovered, in the midst of Sergei and Katerina’s hastily arranged wedding feast, both are despatched to the gulag. On their journey, Sergei decides to hook up with the beautiful Sonyetka causing Katerina’s thoughts to turn once again to murder.

    Drawing his inspiration from Nikolai Leskov's nineteenth-century novella, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Shostakovich's opera was premiered on 22 January 1934 in St Petersburg at the Leningrad State Academic Maly Opera Theatre, today known by its original name, the Mikhailovsky Theatre, just a couple of days before its premiere in Moscow. For two years, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was a triumph wherever it was performed. But as the political climate in Russia changed, so did the opera's fortunes. It was the reaction to a subsequent performance in Moscow on 26 January 1936 that led to the infamous and highly critical "Muddle Instead of Music" article that appeared two days later, and which, at the time - Shostakovich was yet to turn thirty - was so devastating for the composer. Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk disappeared from the repertory for a generation and, later in the year, Shostakovich gave up any thoughts of performing his Fourth Symphony.

    Nowadays, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is appreciated in a rather different light; audiences no longer mistake Shostakovich’s mastery of polyphony for cacophony and opera lovers will be keenly anticipating Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’s return to the Wiener Staatsoper. More than any other composer before him or since, and no matter how grim the subject matter, Shostakovich always found a way to turn his music into an instrument of power that laughs at life’s absurdities and injustice.

    Conductor: Ingo Metzmacher
    Staging: Matthias Hartmann
    Stage Design: Volker Hintermeier
    Costumes: Su Bühler
    Choreography: Teresa Rotemberg

    Main characters and roles:

    • Boris Timofeyevich Izmailov, a merchant (baritone): Wolfgang Bankl
    • Zinoviy Borisovich Izmailov, his son (tenor)
    • Katerina Lwowna Ismailowa, wife of Zinoviy Borisovich (soprano): Eva-Maria Westbroek
    • Sergej, a workman employed at the Izmailovs (tenor): Brandon Jovanovich



    image Vienna State Opera / A&A Tickets Online / Julius Silver