Kirill Petrenko’s Magical Conducting and Anja Kampe’s Superb Voice Highlight This Shostakovich Opera

GermanyGermany Shostakovich, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District: Bayerische Staatsoper Orchestra and Chorus / Kirill Petrenko (conductor), Nationaltheater, Munich, 4.12.2016. (JMI)

Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District © W. Hösl
Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District © W. Hösl

Katerina – Anja Kampe
Sergei – Misha Didyk
Boris – Anatoli Kotscherga
Zinovy – Sergej Skorokhodov
Head of Police and Old Convict – Alexander Tsymbalyuk
Sonjetka – Anna Lapkovskaja
Pope – Goran Jurić
Police Sergeant – Peter Lobert
Aksinja – Heike Grötzinger
Old Ragged Man – Kevin Conners

Direction – Harry Kupfer
Sets – Hans Schavernoch
Costumes – Yan Tax
Lighting – Jürgen Hoffmann

The main objective of my trip to Munich was to attend this performance. Kirill Petrenko was scheduled to be on the podium, and he is one of the few artists whose presence justifies any voyage. My expectations, obviously, were very high, and they were, for the main part, met by wonderful music, an attractive and engaging production and a protagonist who shone in her role.

For this occasion the Bayerische Staatsoper commissioned a new production by veteran German stage director Harry Kupfer, one of the great directors of the last 40 years, especially at the Berlin Staatsoper. His work narrated the plot perfectly, with an excellent definition of the characters and remarkable direction. Unlike what happens on so many other stages, here the production was at the service of the opera and not the other way around.

The first two acts take place in a large warehouse, with a small space at the front which represents the room of Katerina Ismailova. The warehouse contains a series of bridges where extras and the chorus move about. In Act III, at the wedding of Katerina and Sergei, the back of the stage opens up to show the sky, as if to imply that the life of Katerina has begun to be free. Finally, in Act IV, we are in a kind of prison with a massive body of water in the background. The action has been brought up to the time of the opera’s 1934 premiere; the costumes are in grey tones, with the exception of the protagonist who wears a red dress in the first two acts.

When referring to the musical direction, I have to first say that that I was greatly moved by Mstislav Rostropovich’s conducting at Teatro Real 16 years ago. I haven’t forgotten that performance, and it has become a reference for me for any other staging of this opera. But if Rostropovich was outstanding, Kirill Petrenko was no less so in Munich. Readings by this genius are always a special occasion: he is one of the few truly great conductors today. He was magnificent, with a spectacular control of the score at all times. His reading of Act IV was exceptional, full of a delicacy and inspiration that one rarely experiences. Under his baton the Bayerisches Staatsorchester seemed different from the previous two days: this time they were a truly splendid orchestra. The chorus also gave an excellent performance.

The protagonist, Katerina Ismailova, was very well interpreted by Anja Kampe, in one of the best performances that I remember from her. She is always hugely intense on stage, and this was no exception. She sometimes exhibits some strain in the top notes, but the tessitura here is very much in the middle and everything worked perfectly. Her performance was impeccable, ranging from the young woman full of life and dreams in the first part of the opera to the desperate woman of Act IV, where she was able to convey great emotion to the audience.

The part of Sergei was interpreted by tenor Misha Didyk, whose performance was more convincing than in the Italian repertoire. He was appealing on stage, although he did not shine in vocal terms; his voice has lost some quality in recent years.

Boris Ismailov was played by bass Anatoli Kotscherga. His acting was quite good, but his voice is now smaller than before, and he is tighter at the high notes.

Tenor Sergej Skorokhodov was well-suited to Zinovy, with an attractive voice. He is almost a luxury in this somewhat secondary character.

Bass Alexander Tsymbalyuk doubled as Chief of Police and Old Convict, and was more interesting in the latter character. His voice is important in quantity and quality.

Mezzosoprano Anna Lapkovskaja was good as Sonjetka, with an attractive voice. Bass Goran Jurić was a sonorous Pope although somewhat exaggerated on stage. The secondary characters were all well served.

The theatre was once again fully sold out. The audience was a little cold during the performance but gave a warm reception to the artists in the final bows, with the biggest signs of enthusiasm for Kirill Petrenko and Anja Kampe.

José M. Irurzun

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