One of her most successful productions of recent years is being revived by National Opera. THE Lady Macbeth of Mtsenskthe iconic opera of the 20th century, his sensational masterpiece Dmitri Shostakovichafter the enthusiastic reception given to her by the Athenian public in 2019, returns to Hall Stavros Niarchos of ELSat the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, on October 21, 24, 27, 31 and November 5, 9, 2023.

It is directed by Fabrizio Ventura, while the successful direction is signed by Fanny Ardan with the collaboration of a creative team of international renown. The production is implemented with the support of his donation Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) for strengthening the artistic extroversion of the National Opera.

The case, which is based on a novel by Nikolai Leskov, concerns Katerina Ismailova, the wife of a well-to-do merchant, who feels neglected and trapped in her marriage. She falls in love with one of her farm workers and goes so far as to kill her father-in-law and her husband for his sake. Katerina marries her lover, but the murders are discovered and the couple is arrested. On the way to Siberia, Katerina is caught up with a new prospective lover of her husband and with her is swept away by the icy waters of the river. Dmitri Shostakovich starts from the question of the position of women in provincial pre-revolutionary Russia and chooses to satirize with great insight institutions of the same time, such as the church and the tsarist police.

Shostakovich was born in 1906 in Saint Petersburg and became one of the most important composers of the 20th century. His relationship with the Soviet regime, particularly during the Stalinist period, was not easy as his style did not conform to the art directives and he was twice officially accused of formalism. He was influenced by the neoclassical works of Igor Stravinsky and in his symphonic works by the language of Gustav Mahler, but he formed a completely recognizable personal polystylistic idiom. He composed works of all genres, including 15 symphonies, 6 concertos, 15 string quartets, choral works, ballet and film music, piano works, song cycles and operettas. He completed two operas, Myti (1930) and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (1934, second writing as Katerina Ismailova, 1962), while he left drafts for several more. He died in 1975 of lung cancer.

Before becoming one of the most popular works of the 20th century, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was censored by the Stalinist regime. When it was first performed in 1934 at one of Russia’s oldest lyric theaters, the Mikhailovsky, and a little later at the Stanislavsky Art Theater in Moscow, it was immediately received with enthusiasm and recorded as the most important opera of the Soviet period. A few months later, on December 26, 1935, it was staged at the Bolshoi in Moscow – where a few days later it was attended by Joseph Stalin, who, however, left before the end of the play. In one of its back pages the Pravda newspaper – the official organ of the Communist Party – published an article entitled “Confusion instead of music: About the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk region.” After this the composer received a huge blow and as a result he did not complete another opera until his death, although he left drafts for several.

National Opera

Although Shostakovich made changes to the score after Stalin’s death, he was still not allowed to perform the opera. The long-awaited green light was given in the 60s, with the result that the renewed version of the work once again toured the world as one of the most important operas of the 20th century. A significant part of the opera’s power is due to the great variety of the music, which is intensely poetic. The play is not only notable for its rawness and cruelty, but is equally deeply moving, not least in its final scene, which sums up centuries of suffering and deprivation in Russia.

The direction of the project was signed in 2019 by Fanny Ardan, a great figure of French cinema and theater. The star of dozens of films and plays, the muse of Truffaut, the protagonist of Zeffirelli and Polanski, the only “woman next door” with Departier, was tested with great success for the first time in opera with the National Opera, after the two musical theater productions he had signed at the Théâtre de Châtelet in Paris (Message’s Veronique in 2008 and Sondheim’s Passion in 2016). Her bold and sharp direction illuminates issues such as individual freedom, daring, red-hot boundaries.

The director notes: Lady Macbeth presents us with a mirror. And we look at each other. Lady Macbeth is our wild idol, unruly and free. How does the part of us that resists the laws live in a conventional and uniform society? Loving criminals is a risk. I get it too. I love Katerina Ismailova. He is not only a Leskov character in a Shostakovich opera, but he is also a person who is always present, even in our own time, and, if we are careful, we can meet him. I love those who are not afraid of the verdict, the sanctions of society, parties, groups, collective thinking. I look at them living on a tightrope, fragile perhaps, but vibrating and glowing. I tremble the moment they fall. I understand that they would rather die than destroy their dream. I accept that they are a danger to the society of merchants and profiteers. I admire the price they are willing to pay to be free and follow their passion. Being accountable is part of their own rule of the game. I’m glad they’ve lived out their lives as stars in a solar system with a black sun. I love the story of Katerina, Lady Macbeth from Mtsensk Province. To me it is like a picture. I got it as a gift that I would like to offer you. I said to myself: It doesn’t matter the season, the politics. It doesn’t matter the circumstances, the context. Laws don’t matter. There will always be those who obey and those who command, those who follow and those who lead, those who join the line and those who leave it, one day or another, after a long time of waiting for true and violent joy, because the life’s call is stronger than anything else. And so, I keep Lady Macbeth in the region of Mtsensk, in her province, in the empire of the tsars, in her environment, that of the merchants. Shostakovich’s music, with even more richness and sharper contrast than the text itself, tells us the complexities of Katerina and her adversaries, how her melancholy was overcome by anger, blasphemy and action without return, how this contradictory and scandalous heroine makes us want to live, even if mostly in danger. And since the Greek shores welcomed me, may the gods of Olympus, if they agree to look at me, guide me and protect me».