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The Royal Opera House brilliant revival of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is a deliciously murderous affair

19 April, 2018 — By Sebastian Taylor

Eva-Maria Westbroek as Katerina and John Daszak as Zinovy Ismailov. Photo: ROH/Clive Barda

It takes some doing to portray a maudlin, sexually frustrated housewife turning into a murdering woman firmly in charge – and then unravelling as her murders are revealed. But Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek does just that in singing the role of Katerina Ismailova, the “lady” in Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at the Royal Opera House.

Firstly, she murders her bullying father-in-law by mixing rat poison with a delicious plate of mushrooms. Then she murders her boring, neglectful husband by chopping his head off with an axe – parading the head, dripping with blood in a plastic bag, around the stage. After those murders, she’s certainly gained control of her life and is able enjoy the sexual attentions of her seducer to the full.

Unfortunately, it all ends in tears when the very smelly corpse and head of her husband are discovered, only to be paraded round the stage again. And she ends up on the way to Siberia, deserted by her woman­ising lover with the hots for another prisoner.

Westbroek’s superlative performance as Katerina is the linchpin for Shostakovich’s satirical gallows humour – the more ghastly the act, the greater the humour, à la Joe Orton’s Loot. It was that black humour that Stalin found so distasteful in 1932, leading to Pravda’s famous condemnation Shostakovich’s opera as “muddle not music”.

Westbroek gets strong support from British bass John Tomlinson – an ROH soloist for 40 years – in the role of her father-in-law, and from American tenor Brandon Jovanovich as her husband.

The production is a revival of Richard Jones’s excellent 2004 staging. Conductor Antonio Pappano does a great job in delivering Shostako­vich’s fantastic score, trombones to the fore.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on April 22, 24, and 27, 020 7304 4000, www.roh.org.uk­

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