Sex. Death. Siberia.

I had a last-minute invitation to see Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto this week. From their description:

The frustrated and lonely wife of a wealthy man falls into a passionate relationship with one of his workers. Fuelled by lust and a need to escape her bleak existence, Katerina risks all and suffers the horrifying consequences.

Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk scandalized Stalin and the Soviet Union of the 1930s, and was denounced for the naturalism, vulgarity, and overt sexuality in the story, which is mirrored so potently in the music. It remains as relentlessly powerful and extreme today.

Usually when I go to the opera, I don’t see simulated sex on stage. Okay, I admit I haven’t been to the opera in a few years, but the last time is was all zaftig sopranos and portly tenors in elegant costumes singing about love while casting sidelong glances at each other, or clutching hands. This time, it’s an attractive couple, her in a silk slip and him stripped to his boxers, singing about how she shouldn’t be cheating on her husband as she mounts him and gets it on.

The story is a great classic tragedy: Katerina and Zinovy have an unhappy marriage, living with/near his father Boris, who also owns the factory that Zinovy manages. Although it appears that their marriage is unconsummated due to Zinovy’s disinterest, the old man has the hots for her. Meanwhile, she takes up with Sergey, one of the factory workers who was fired from his last job for screwing the boss’ wife, while her husband is out of town, but they are discovered by Boris. She poisons Boris, then is haunted by his ghost. Zinovy arrives home and catches Katerina and Sergey together in bed, so they kill him, and she starts being haunted by both ghosts. On the day of Katerina and Sergey’s wedding, Zinovy’s body is discovered, they’re arrested and sent off to Siberia. Sergey blames Katerina for all of this and rejects her, then gets it on with one of the female prisoners during transport to Siberia. Katerina kills the other woman and herself. See? Sex, death and Siberia.

There are some great anti-Soviet satirical bits as well, such as when all the workers in the chicken-plucking factory sing about how eager they are to go off to work.

Great music, and the sets were really fantastic, including a raised portion representing Katerina’s apartment that moved forward into view when required.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk finishes its run in Toronto tonight.

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