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Successful Shostakovich in Toronto

Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
01/31/2007 -   - and 3, 7, 10, 15, 18, 20 23 February 2007
Dmitry Shostakovich: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
Nicola Beller Carbone (Katerina Ismailova), Oleg Balashov (Sergey), Timothy Noble (Boris), Vadim Zapletchny (Zinovy), Andrew Tees (Millhand), Michael Barrett (Coachman), Melinda Delorme (Aksinya), Hubert Francis (Shabby Peasant), Andrew Stewart (Porter, Sergeant), Jon-Paul Décosse (Steward, Sentry), Alain Coulombe (Priest), Robert Pomakov (Chief of Police), Cornelis Opthof (Policeman), Lawrence Wiliford (Teacher), Steven Sherwood (Drunken Guest), Pavel Daniluk (Old Convict), Buffy Baggott (Sonyetka), Yannick-Muriel Noah (Female Convict), Stephen McClare, John Kriter, Justin Welsh (Foremen)

Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and Chorus, Richard Bradshaw (Conductor), Sandra Horst (Chorus Master), Paul Curran (Director), Kevin Knight (Set and Costume Designer), David Martin Jacques (Lighting Designer)

The Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is a great success musically, dramatically and vocally. A blood-spattered curtain rises to reveal Kevin Knight’s double-decker set which has the Ismailov’s two-room dwelling on the upper level. The realistic details include even the proverbial kitchen sink. This upper level slides to the back of the stage when the action shifts to the utilitarian workplace below where the employees labour on a chicken processing assembly line.

A note on setting the work in the soviet era in stead of the original story’s tsarist era: The Ismailovs are referred to as rich merchants - were there such in Stalin’s Russia? Surely the soviet system drastically altered the boss/employee relationship from that which is on display in the opera - and the icon-kissing and presence of the priest are also of the pre-soviet era. Still, the general story of illicit love, murder and retribution could occur in any time or place. (Or else there would be no opera at all.)

There is not a weak nor inappropriate voice among the 21-member cast. At times I wished Nicola Beller Carbone had a bit more volume, but that might have reduced her vulnerability. Oleg Balashov exudes a downmarket sexiness as Sergey (and my front row informant tells me that here is a tenor who looks fine with his shirt off). Vadim Zapletchny emphasizes the whining crybaby side of Zinovy, while Timothy Noble is a malevolent force of nature as his domineering father, Boris. Standouts among the shorter roles were Robert Pomakov (surely a future Boris Godunov) as the Chief of Police, Pavel Daniluk as the Old Convict, and Buffy Baggott, who as Sonyetka manages to look tarty even in drab gulag garb.

Katarina and Sergey’s big sex scene is very graphic, although still not as blatant as Shostakovich’s lewd music. The tragic-comic juxtapositions of the piece discomfits some audience members when, for example, the priest (Alain Coulombe) breaks into a foxtrot after administering to the dying Boris. The scene at the police station is suitably goofy, although could have been even more sharply choreographed.

Orchestra and chorus are well up to the demands placed on them by Richard Bradshaw. If there is a flaw, it lies in the division of the evening into two parts, with just one intermission at after 105 minutes of music. The scene with the death of Boris ends with quite the musical climax and the curtain descends, leaving the audience with the impression that intermission has arrived. The resulting bustle covers the beginning of the low, ominous music that ushers in the ensuing scene which leads to the murder of Zinovy and the hiding of his body. The lesson here is that the curtain should only come down to signal an intermission, and blackouts or other lighting effects should be used for scenic transitions. Hardened Wagnerians are used to long a sit and the broader opera audience just has to get used to it as well.

In recent weeks we have been treated to high-definition broadcasts in cinemas of live performances from the Metropolitan Opera. If the COC were ever to consider such a move, here is one production - and cast - that could withstand such close scrutiny.

Michael Johnson



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