Stephanie and I saw Shostakovich's *Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk* at the Met on Oct 2, 2022. This was my third time seeing this opera at the Met - - it was the first opera I ever saw there, way back in 1994 (on my first visit to New York) and I saw a revival in 2014. This was the most thrilling time, by far.
The biggest reason is the woman playing the title character, Katerina. In 1994 it was Maria Ewing, an American soprano I'd seen as Salome in Chicago a few years before. She was a riveting performer with a strident and angular voice, perfect for this part. In 2014 it was Dutch soprano Eva Maria Westbroeck, who has a creamy, beautiful voice - - she was entirely committed in her performance but not as effective because the beauty of her voice didn't really serve the role. I want to hear the desperation, despair, and exhaustion in Katerina's voice and she didn't deliver that.
This time Katerina was played by Russian soprano Svetlana Sozdateleva and she was STUNNING. I don't have any familiarity with the Russian language but I could tell that there was a greater degree of specificity of expression in her singing than I heard with the others. She had just the right kind of voice for this role: ripe, occasionally beautiful, but with that wounded quality that I find so compelling. Her high notes seemed to be as much an act of will as the result of any comfortable or reliable vocal production.
She often sang with a straight tone, which was a color picked up by some of the soloists in the orchestra (more about them later). And she inhabited the role in such a bone-deep way, it was chilling. At one point in the final scene, when Katerina is at her most distraught, she was on her knees, eyes wide open, mouth flung open in a silent scream. I don't know many opera singers who would attempt such a bold choice and Sozdateleva totally owned it. It was the most impactful moment in a stellar performance. She was supposed to have made her Met debut in the canceled 2020-21 season, as Renata in Prokofiev's *The Fiery Angel,* but her debut was rescheduled to this revival. I hope the Met does *The Fiery Angel* sometime in the next year or so, it was the thing I was most looking forward to in that season and now I want to see it even more, with Sozdateleva, of course.
Katerina's boyfriend was played by John Relyea, who was very strong. I heard him as Bacchus in *Ariadne auf Naxos* last spring and was seriously worried for him. That short role totally wrung him out, it was alarming. This role is much longer but it must be a better fit for him because he sounded strong and secure the whole time. Whew. Katerina's father-in-law was played by Brandon Jovanovich, who I saw many times about 15 years ago and is being thrown a few juicy bones lately - - he had three roles in the new opera of *Hamlet* last spring, he was fantastic in that. He was just as strong in this. I hope the Met continues throwing him similar bones.
Here are the three of them in an excerpt from Act II:
The conductor was Keri-Lynn Wilson, in her Met debut. She captured all of the verve, cynicism, and heartbreak in the score, and the orchestra played so marvelously for her. I feel a little funny bringing this up, but since Met General Manager Peter Gelb brought it up in his program note, I guess the cat's out of the bag: she's married to Gelb. But it didn't feel a moment like any nepotism, she's the real deal.
Our seats were of course way up in the clouds, the Family Circle, where I always sit. We saw lots of open seats so Stephanie suggested we move to a box, close to the stage, for the second act. I'm so glad we did, I might be doing more of that in the future! The view was a little obstructed but it didn't bother me because I'd seen the show before and I saw what I needed to. Best of all we had a great view of the orchestra and this was the perfect show for that.
The star of the show was bass clarinetist Dean LeBlanc. Shostakovich gave him many solos and he played them all with quiet power, beauty, and expression. He picked up on the hollow, vibrato-free color of Sozdateleva's voice. The other soloist I'll single out is concertmaster David Chan, who had a glamorous solo in the first act which was simply ravishing. "Violin solo into the stratosphere," as Stephanie said in a text later that night.
A few other notes from Stephanie: "Badass low brass." Wow, they delivered! I got the feeling they were thrilled to play something so overt and vulgar after all those noble Verdi operas they do.
"Sleazy trailer trash wedding outfits." "LOTS OF F-CKING." The trailer trash is a delightful element of this production but the f-cking is built into the opera itself! Even in Siberia, where I imagine it's dangerous to have your parts exposed.
My favorite exchange between me and Stephanie:
HER: A disco ball, and then a wrecking ball!
ME: That's life, honey.