“I don’t think that “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” is an opera about female empowerment,” the great French actress Fanny Ardan told the Athenian-Macedonian News Agency, on the occasion of the revival of the successful production of the National Opera, which she is directing. “The heroine fights for her life, her love, her passion, she is alone, she is not a member of any political faction, she does not seek power, she is a free woman, she does not follow the laws, the behavior of a group or the thoughts of a party . She is more “anarchist” than “politically correct”” she says to APE-MPE.

“Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk”, the sensational masterpiece of Dmitri Shostakovich, after the enthusiastic reception given to it by the Athenian audience in 2019, returns to the Stavros Niarchos Hall of the Greek National Theater, at the SNFCC, on October 21, 24, 27, 31 and November 5, 9, 2023. The musical direction of the production is signed by the Italian Fabrizio Ventura in his first collaboration with the National Opera.

Speaking to APE-MPE about her experience from the first time she directed the iconic opera in Athens in 2019, Fani Ardan says: “I remember everything very well. I have so many memories that I need a lot of time to recount them. I remember it being a very intense time before, during rehearsals and on the day of the premiere. I remember my melancholy when I left Athens to return to Paris, because while I was at the National Opera, I felt alive and passionate about what I was doing. It was a great experience, both on a human and artistic level. I will never forget her”.

Before becoming one of the most popular works of the 20th century, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was censored by the Stalinist regime. In fact, the composer received a huge blow as a result of which he did not complete another opera until his death, although he left drafts for several. 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 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.

Great form of French cinema and theatre

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, Fanny Ardan 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.

“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 am glad that they have lived their lives as stars in a solar system with a black sun” she notes and adds:

“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 of no return, how this contradictory and scandalous heroine makes us want to live, even if mostly in danger.’

A creative team of international renown

The production is the fruit of a great creative team, led by Ardan. The multifunctional sets are designed by the award-winning German set designer Tobias Heusel and the costumes by two great costume designers: the multiple Oscar winner Milena Canonero and Petra Reinhart, known for her collaborations with Robert Carsen.

For kinesiology, Ardan chose the collective of French artists (LA)ORD (Marin Brutti, Jonathan Debrouer, Arthur Arrel), which was created in 2014 in Paris and became known for the choreographies it made with non-professional communities through the internet. While since 2019 he is at the helm of the CCN Ballet national of Marseille.

The lighting of the production is signed by the internationally recognized and multi-awarded Italian director of photography Luca Bigazzi, known from the films of Paolo Sorrentino, but also from his collaboration with Abbas Kiarostami.

In the title role, the distinguished Russian soprano, with the special vocal and stage presence that impressed audiences and critics at the first presentation in 2019, Svetlana Sozdateleva, who has performed Katerina Ismailova with great success, among others, in Moscow, Oslo, Helsinki, while he has appeared in leading opera houses, in Brussels, Berlin, Bologna, Munich, St. Petersburg, etc.

The role of Sergei will be performed by the tenor Sergei Semiskur, soloist of the Mariinsky Theater of St. Petersburg, after his outstanding performance in 2019. The role of Boris is held by the distinguished Greek basso-baritone Yiannis Giannisis. With them are the accomplished and younger soloists of the National Opera. The ELLS Choir is directed by Agathangelos Georgakatos.

The production is implemented with the support of the donation of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) to strengthen the artistic extroversion of the National Opera.