Mariss Jansons conducts the Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in this performance of Shostakovich's classic opera recorded live at the Het Musiektheater, Amsterdam in 2006.
Some problem with BluRay reader (and CyberLink Dell 8 DX for BluRay, as well as with Sharp Aquos BluRay reader) with fresh upgrade. Maybe this BluRay is too recent... maybe it is the wrong region code, maybe something else... Redoing the purchase, I would go for the DVD!
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Magnificent playing, singinging, acting and soundFeb. 4 2007
Dr. J. J. Kregarman
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This is now my third DVD of Lady Macbeth, an opera which I would rank among the very best of all 20th century operas and of all Russian operas. Its strong points are very strong indeed. The musical performance as led by Mariss Jansons is outstanding and there are no disturbingly weak links among the singers/actors. All leading performers deserve the wild applause they receive at the opera's end. And the sound on this DVD is magnificent. There is only one possible fly in the ointment and that is one's ability (or inability) to go along with Martn Kusej's stage direction. Sex and murder were done well and only in the last act - set in some kind of asylum or jail - did what was going on stage (people wandering around in their underwear) seem at odds with what was going on in the opera itself (prisoners marching off to Siberia). Otherwise I do not think the production gets in the way of the drama. With repeated listening - and this production deserves repeated listening - I think its musical strengths will win out over any questions.
48 of 52 people found the following review helpful
A most remarkable achievement.Jan. 20 2007
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Following Rostropovich's pioneering effort from the latter days of LP, Shostakovich's second (and last) opera seems to finally reach its deserved status amongst the 20th century's masterpieces in the genre. It is an outstanding work, perhaps among the composer's finest, along with the 1st violin concerto, the Michelangelo Sonnets, the 6th and 10th symphonies, the preludes and fugues for piano, the late quartets or that jewel of an opera, "The Nose". The contrast with his own watered-down version (Katerina Ismailova) which I own on Melodia LP's purchased long ago at Collett's in London's Charing Cross Rd. (they kind of specialised in selling records from the iron courtain countries) is revelatory and would explain Stalin's disgust with this original version (funny to notice how prudish dictators can be, no? no remorse from brutally having people killed or exiled to Siberia, but scandalised at Mme Ismailova's sexual frolics; it is said Hitler was quite prudish too, as is Castro, were said to be Saddam Hussein and Kim il Sung or others of their kind) and later satisfaction with the composer's 5th symphony.
Visually the production is stunning, a winner in all respects and I must congratulate Opus Arte for making it avaliable on DVD. I knew of producer Kusej's work only from reference, as not understanding german I have not attended any of his theatre productions. I haven't seen the work's EMI release on DVD of a Liceu staging, but found Gramophone's review of it rather demolishing (I don't know if they have turned their eyes yet to this Opus Arte Amsterdam version, but I should expect nothing short of a most favourable review from them).
Musically, there are two real "coups de foudre": one is of course the superlative playing of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the other the choosing of Mariss Jansons to conduct the work. Janson's key formative years at Leningrad under Mravinsky's wing assure us of a direct link not only to the composer via who was his most conspicuous and trusted collaborator, but also to the actual environment, politically and artistically, that hovered over the composer whilst composing this opera, which not only Mravinsky knew all too well but was a key player as he was able not only to survive it but also to excel within it. Singers-wise, top honours must go of course to Ms Westbroek, who sorts out an enormous task not only in vocal terms but also as an actress and stage presence (and she's also quite an attractive woman, if only she shedded a handful of kilos ...). She fully deserves every single bit of applause she gets in the courtain calls after the work's end. Ventris does not get an especially good comment in Gramophone's review of EMI's Liceu release, but as I haven't seen that one as I mentioned, I can't say if in the Amsterdam production he was better (or worse), I will only say that, from what I saw and heard in this Opus Arte video at least, he makes a powerful impersonation of what must be one of the most lustful characters in the history of opera, and he does so with unquestionable results; he not only does look the part, but sings it remarkably well as well. I did find the other important male singers rather low in volume, perhaps more than they should, the two Ismailovs as well as the drunken priest; they are in a league certainly different from Ms Westbroek's. And let's not leave aside the chorus's outstanding contribution.
So in all, a most remarkable result, with the utterly realistic sound one has come to expect from the house and the very apt and interesting supplementary material that has contributed to place Opus Arte above most other publishers of opera on DVD (and miles away from US publishers such as Image or Kultur, whose in this respect very mediocre products tend to reach our shelves this side of the Atlantic more often than Europe-based ones like Opus Arte, Bel Air Classiques or Arthaus Musik).
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Abstract MurdersMarch 26 2009
Joseph A. Meeker
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After listening to Rostropovich's EMI rendition I knew I would take an interest in a stage production. The cover of this DVD version is a little misleading and so are some of the critical remarks: This show isn't about a complete sex act so much as it is about the tragedy of the misdirection of a passion. The whole production is startlingly abstract in sets and action; the glass box as the setting for Katerina's home was an outstanding idea; the ghosts walking vertically was a startling addendum; the final scenes realize what I had until then considered an impossible barrier to staging: abjection of the prisoners, the desertion of Katerina by Sergei, the murder of Sonya (and how else could you depict a drowning on stage?), the last lamentations floating over the sentries and their dogs. Really, really cathartic.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A Triumph of SubversionApril 25 2011
David M. Goldberg
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One has to admire the courage of Shostakovich ( or wonder at his folly ) for creating such a damning indictment of Stalin's police state just as the purges were reaching their climax. This lends a historical dimension to what is without doubt one of the richest operas in the literary and musical domains in the entire repertoire, modern or ancient. Other reviewers have done justice to the plot and the large cast of ( mostly ) sleazy characters around whom it is built to display the greed, envy and lust that pervade the core of the human spirit. It is a bleak commentary on humanity, as deserved in our day as in the time of the Great Dictator, and no one emerges with their reputation untarnished ( that is, if they are still alive at the end ), yet the impact upon the receptive listener and viewer is of exhiliration rather than despair. This excitement is largely the product of the magnificent orchestral work performed by Jansons and the Concertgebouw, backed up by the powerful chorus and the fine camera work that captures these extended moments in all their ugly majesty. Think of Francis Bacon's geatest canvasses and you will understand where I am coming from. Director Martin Kusej has cleverly updated the decor to our own times, and set the action in a series of spare cubes and rectangles that pare down the action to its essentials, and except for the dying moments, lends piercing clarity to the compex and busy activity on stage. This comment leads, in fact, to the finale itself, for Kusej has been accused of changing the ending. I do not see it that way. Katrina's preceding soliloquy expresses her wish for death by drowning, and nothing that follows rules out the fulfillment of that wish. Nor does the libretto. It seems that Kusej is trying to convey the image of rising water as the stage clears to reveal the dead, so that the drowning is suggested surrealistically as it has to be, given the fact that the constraints of this set allow no room for the river that one can imagine borders their temporary stopping place. It is how Salvador Dali might have done it if he had landed the job of building the sets.
Back to the music. I consider this the finest orchestral writing that the composer ever produced, his major symphonies notwithstanding. No one who is timid about modern opera need be terrified by anything in this work. They will not find much to hum about, but the intense congruity of words with music pushes the plot forward and exposes the characters down to their very skeletons. Nothing so revealing is to be found in the superficially more entertaining pre- 20th Century operas, although late Wagner and Verdi come close. Its model is Berg's Wozzeck, that other towering musical drama of our time (no, I am not forgetting Peter Grimes, number 3 on my list ). The singing and acting are hardly distinguishable and could not have been better overall. Ventris' sexy performance has elicited some harsh words, but for me he gives a convincing interpretation of the role: after all, he is not singing Parsifal here as he has done with great distinction elsewhere. Westerbroek, as all seem to agree, dominates the cast. She compellingly projects the unsavoury appetites of the heroine, as well as the remorse that they bring. Visually and vocally she has an Olympian quality that doubtless accounts for her success in Wagnerian roles. Five cheers and five stars for a remarkable DVD, that stimulates, satisfies, and provokes in equal measures.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Laying bare body and soulAug. 30 2014
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Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is an opera more heard about than seen. The facts of its notoriety are well known. After opening in 1934 in Leningrad and Moscow, the opera catapulted the 29-year-old composer to superstardom. Within two years, it had been performed 83 times to sold-out houses in Leningrad, nearly 100 times in Moscow, and reached the stage in London, Stockholm, Zürich, Copenhagen, Argentina, Czechoslovakia, New York, and even Cleveland.
Then on Jan. 26, 1936, Stalin showed up at the Bolshoi to see what the fuss was about -- and all hell broke loose. The Great Leader, entourage in tow, stormed out of his box before the show was over. Two days later an editorial on Pravda's front page condemned the opera and its composer. Lady Macbeth soon disappeared. Shostakovich, declared an Enemy of the People, feared for his life.
After watching Mariss Jansons conduct Lady Macbeth with Eva-Maria Westbroek in the title role in this 2006 Amsterdam staging, the surprise is not that Lady Macbeth upset Stalin, who slaughtered millions on a whim but was a prude on matters sexual. The surprise is that Shostakovich wasn't marched out and executed on the spot -- which I don't doubt would have happened had Stalin witnessed this particular production.
I've seen my two-Blu-ray set from start to finish three times, and I can hardly take in the daring performance Westbroek delivers. I believe there are times she forgets where she is, forgets who she is, so complete is her commitment to the role, so white-hot is her involvement in realizing the multilayered character of Shostakovich's Katerina Ismailova.
Katerina is a bored, rich housewife stuck in a provincial backwater. Her impotent husband has not been able to consummate their marriage, and while he is away on business, she takes as her lover a wandering rake named Sergey who has just begun working in the family factory, then murders the abusive father-in-law who catches her with Sergey. When her husband returns, she and Sergey murder him, then try to flee with the family's fortune before they are arrested and sent to Siberia.
Somehow, Westbroek overcomes our revulsion at Katerina's crimes and, without absolving her of guilt, evokes pathos for her suffering, her isolation, her own betrayal by Sergey with another female prisoner. Katerina wants Life. She wants to be kissed hard, to taste blood, to know what is it to feel truly alive. Actualizing Katerina on stage as this true-to-life woman is no small achievement. Westbroek does it.
Describing the virtues of this overwhelming production could grow to Dostoyevskyian proportions. Christopher Ventris polishes his muscular portrayal of Sergey in Barcelona's 2002 Lady Macbeth Shostakovich - Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk / Secunde, Ventris, Kotcherga, Vas, Clark, Nesterenko, Capelle, Anissimov, Barcelona Opera. The whole supporting cast deserves praise, including Alexandre Kravets, who enacts Shostakovich's version of the drunken porter who gets up in the night to relieve himself in Shakespeare's Macbeth. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra plays as only this world-class orchestra can play. On the podium, Mariss Jansons is so absorbed that the sweat is dripping off his chin within 15 minutes. The camera work, directed by Thomas Grimm, is dazzlingly right.
That camera work is notably effective when Katerina and her Seryózha first make love, as runaway music throbs from the orchestra and pulsating strobe lights heighten the entire episode, right down to its descending trombone glissando denouement.
Which brings up a major caution. On the back cover is printed a warning: "This production contains stroboscopic light effects, nudity and scenes of a sexual nature." To which might have been added: graphic violence and bloodshed. If such elements offend you, avoid this.
Shostakovich's orchestration is modern but accessible. Some people shy away from Russian opera because they say the language doesn't sound musical, but Westbroek does indeed sing. Beautifully. She shreds the heartstrings. Listen to her moan, "Seryózha, Seryózha," toward the final moments of the opera, and you'll understand as you never could otherwise the mournful motif that rises in the fourth movement of Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 8, composed 24 years after Lady Macbeth was crushed.
The strongest recommendation for this Lady Macbeth perhaps comes, by accident rather than design, from Westbroek herself. At the end, when the curtain rises to reveal her standing alone to receive the ovation she is due, she puts her hands on her head with a look of astonishment on her face, as though she herself cannot believe what she has done. She has laid it on the line, body and soul, heart and voice, given every ounce of her being to this performance. She barely holds back the tears.
It's a feat Westbroek might not be able ever to duplicate. She doesn't have to. Thanks to Opus Arte's stunning Blu-ray, the whole world can hear it and see it.