Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Hamburg

When, some years ago, I was working in Hamburg my frequent visits to the Staatsoper there tended to be disappointing; a mixture of quirky productions and some (often famous) singers not performing to their potential. What a joyful surprise when I returned for Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk: a conventional, even unambitious, but compelling production combined with outstanding musical qualities.

An obvious reason for the latter was the presence of Kent Nagano in the pit. When I knew him during his years at Manchester with the Hallé I was particularly impressed by his performances of Mahler and there are, of course, similarities between that composer’s symphonic work and Shostakovich. Nothing unexpected, therefore, in Nagano’s mastery of the combination of grim humour and lyricism in Lady Macbeth, nor that the whole was so beautifully paced.

It was undoubtedly a risk to invite Russian film director Angelina Nikonova to stage her first opera and what emerged was nothing less than a return to theatrical naturalism, of the sort that was familiar in the 1950s. But for those who feared that we might be treated to a dose of socialist realism (including those who booed Miss Nikonova at her curtain call?) there were reassuring qualities to her work: the production, with the designs of Varvara Timofeeva, was so meticulously prepared and so convincing in its detail that it was gripping from beginning to end.

It is hard to imagine that a better set of soloists can be found for the principal roles. Camilla Nylund has the talent for communicating all the dimensions to Katerina’s personality and musical expressions and her portrayal was all the more persuasive because she made effective use of her half-voice and did not overdo the histrionics. Dmitry Golovnin, as Sergey, was the very essence of a vigorous young lover getting himself entangled in something which was bigger than he could manage, and he sang with a thrilling, burnished tone.  Alexander Roslavets’ identification with Boris, Katerina’s father-in-law, was complete in terms both of character and vocalisation.

An immense evening of musical theatre.