Lady Macbeth at the Bolshoi

Dangerous Music
When Stalin pulled Shostakovich’s opera “Lady Macbeth” from the Soviet stage, the composer had good reason to fear for his life.
By Raymond Stults
Published: November 19, 2004
Widely considered the greatest Russian opera — and perhaps even the greatest of all operas — of the 20th century, Dmitry Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” has led a troubled life over most of the 70 years since its dual premiere in Leningrad and Moscow. Even before the opening, Soviet censors had hacked away at some of its libretto’s more salacious passages. Then, after two triumphant years at home and abroad, it was banned from the Soviet stage, presumably on Josef Stalin’s direct orders, returning a quarter of a century later as the revised and softened “Katerina Ismailova.” Only over the past decade or so has the opera come to be widely seen and heard with its original words and music intact.
This Friday, the Bolshoi Theater makes its first attempt at presenting Shostakovich’s masterpiece as the composer and his co-librettist, Alexander Preis, initially conceived it. The production brings to the Bolshoi a team of newcomers: Georgian-born, St. Petersburg-based director Timur Chkheidze, whose elegant production of Sergei Prokofiev’s “The Gambler” won the Mariinsky Theater a Golden Mask in 1997; designer Yury Gegeshidze, a fellow native of Georgia and St. Petersburg resident; and Hungarian-born conductor Zoltan Pesko, currently the musical director of Lisbon’s principal opera house, the Teatro San Carlo.
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