Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk—which we used to know more commonly as Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District—is back at the Metropolitan Opera. This is a Shostakovich masterpiece from 1934. I call it one of the “great unwatchable operas”—operas whose stories are so cruel, so inhumane, they can hardly be watched. (A leading opera on this list is Wozzeck, that Berg masterpiece.)
The Met’s production is that of Graham Vick from 1994. I remarked on the production reviewing a performance in the 2014–15 season. While we’re on the subject of Lady Macbeths: Mariss Jansons conducted the opera at the Salzburg Festival in 2017. I believe it was the last time I heard that master conductor, who died in 2019. (For my review of that Lady Macbeth, go here.)
Conducting at the Met last Friday night was Keri-Lynn Wilson, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1967. She is obviously a smart musician, and she conducted with precision and confidence—a confidence well earned. The orchestra was exceptionally clear. You could almost have written the score down, listening to the performance.
So, what’s my beef? I find myself like Oliver, asking for more: more fear, more tension, more craziness, more carnality, more terror—more. Yet Maestra Wilson had her own approach, a perfectly creditable one. Act IV had welcome power.
Portraying the title character was a soprano from Moscow, Svetlana Sozdateleva, making her Met debut. She is a genuine singing actress (as a Lady Macbeth has to be). Is her voice beautiful? I must say, it grew on me, as did Ms. Sozdateleva as a whole. Would you want to hear her sing a set of Schubert songs, or Mozart’s Exultate, jubilate? Maybe not. But she was singing, and acting, Lady Macbeth, and she did so convincingly.
This is a punishing role, requiring vocal stamina, other stamina, and mental toughness.
The tenor, portraying Sergei, was Brandon Jovanovich, from Billings, Montana. He makes a specialty of Russian roles, and indeed of Slavic roles. He was Sergei at the Met in the 2014–15 season. Let me paste a snippet of my review:
I always knew him as a solid and appealing lyric singer. I had no idea he could pull off Sergei, all lust, virility, and bad charisma. Jovanovich was like a young Marlon Brando. And he could sing: freshly and ruggedly, easily and commandingly.
Was the same true last night? Mainly so, yes. But, Brando aside, I thought of Jim Carrey, as I watched Mr. Jovanovich from my seat. In any event, the tenor pulled off this challenging role, once more.
Another tenor in the cast is the one playing Zinovy Borisovich, and this is a thankless role. (Nobody likes him and nobody minds much when his wife and her lover kill him.) An Austrian tenor, Nikolai Schukoff—not to be confused with the American tenor Neil Shicoff—made a fine impression in this role. He has a compelling, even a moving, voice.
Could it be that John Relyea is fifty already? It seems like yesterday that he was the hot young bass-baritone. It seems like yesterday that I saw Stephanie Blythe pinch his cheeks and kiss him, after a joint recital. He is basically the same Relyea, and he has exhibited gravity in his roles of late. In Lady Macbeth, he was Boris, entirely believable as that strange, dangerous father and father-in-law. Also, this Canadian bass-baritone sounded an awful lot like a Russian bass.
Goran Jurić is a Croatian bass, and he was a rich-voiced hoot as the Priest. (There is some comic relief in this ghastly opera.) A Ukrainian bass, Alexander Tsymbalyuk, was the Old Convict, singing gorgeously (as usual).
Members of the orchestra are significant “cast members” in this opera, and the Met’s woodwinds put on a clinic. Dean LeBlanc, the bass clarinet, was another Russian bass. The principal clarinet, Jessica Phillips, did some excellent singing of her own. So did the cellist, Rafael Figueroa, whose tones might have sent a shiver or two down my spine.
Speaking of excellence: the translation of the libretto, for the “seatback titles,” is the work of Sonya Haddad (1936–2004). What a scholar and translator she was. In Lady Macbeth, her rhyming couplets are especially notable. This kind of thing makes a difference, to the operagoer.