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Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk review – searing and unsparing Shostakovich

Royal Opera House, London
Eva-Maria Westbroek’s performance in this vivid revival keeps you rooting for her to the very end

It’s one of the great if-onlys of opera: if Stalin hadn’t found Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk so objectionable when he saw it in 1936, we might now have a trilogy of Shostakovich operas about gutsy Russian women – which is what the composer had planned. As it is, we have only the one – and Richard Jones’s 2004 production, returning to the Royal Opera House for the first time in 12 years, has been away far too long.

Revived by director Elaine Kidd, it is blackly funny, unsparing, sometimes shocking and often tasteless, but always on point. Jones moves this 19th-century story to the mid-20th, with Katerina’s joy in her love affair and her self-discovery manifesting themselves in a makeover for both herself and her shabby home. Suddenly and violently, out go the two men of the house; in come deafeningly loud wallpaper and a blingy chandelier. Yet what’s more striking is how acutely observed all the relationships are within the high yet claustrophobic walls of John Macfarlane’s multi-roomed set – walls that finally find a grim echo in the towering sides of the pantechnicons in the final scene, transporting prisoners as if they’re livestock.

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