"Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District". Opera in four acts, nine scenes based on the novella by N. Leskov. (Libretto by A. Preis and D. Shostakovich).
Dedication: "N. V. Varzar"
January 22, 1934. Leningrad State Academic Maly Opera Theatre. Director N. Smolich. Conductor S.Samosud.
January 24th ... under the title "Katerina Ismailova" in the Nemirovich-Danchenko State Music Theatre in Moscow. Conductor G. Stolyarov.
Premiere of the second version of the opera "Katerina Ismailova" took place on January 8, 1963 on the stage of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Academic Music Theatre in Moscow.
Premieres abroad: In 1934-1936 "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District" was staged in a number of foreign theatres (in Bratislava, Buenos Aires, Cleveland, Copenhagen, New York, Prague, Stockholm, Philadelphia and Zurich).
Manuscripts: The hand-written score of the first version is in the Russian State Archive for Literature and Art (Stack 2048, Inv.2, Items 32-35); the hand-written score of the 1963 edition is in the same place (Stack 2048, Inv. 3, Items 17-20).
First Edition: The score of the second version: "Muzyka" Publishers, 1965.
"I read Leskov's "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. It made a big impression on me. That is how the operatic work "Katerina Ismailova" was born.
<...> Whenever you write music based on a literary work, you create something quite different, a work all of its own".
(D. Shostakovich, "How Music is born". "Literaturnaya Gazeta", December 21, 1965))
I interpret "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District" from a different angle than that of Leskov. As can be seen from the title itself, he adopts an ironic approach to the events he is describing. <...> The title brings out the
insignificant scale of the location ... a small district, where the characters are small fry, with passions and interests on a smaller scale than those of Shakespeare's characters.
<...> N. Leskov presents the heroine of his story as a demonic figure. He does not provide any moral or psychological grounds for justifying her behaviour... I perceived Katerina Ismailova as an energetic, talented, beautiful woman, who was languishing in a gloomy and cruel family setting in a Russia of merchants and serfs."
(D. Shostakovich "Yekaterina Ismailova". The Author on the Opera. "Sovietskoe Iskusstvo", December 14,1933)
"I want to write a Soviet 'Nibelung's Ring'. It will an operatic tetralogy about a woman and 'Lady Macbeth' will stand in for the 'Rhine Gold'. The key character in the next opera will be a heroine belonging to the People's Will movement. Then a woman from our century. Finally I shall depict one of our Soviet heroines embodying all the characteristics of the women of today and tomorrow starting from Larissa Reisner and ending with the finest concrete-mixer of the Dnieprostroi Project - Zhenya Romanko. This subject underlies my daily thoughts and shall do so throughout my life for the next ten years".
("Vechernyaya Krasnaya Gazeta", February 10, 1934)
"I tried to make the musical language of the opera as simple and expressive as possible. I cannot agree with the theories, which at one time were being advocated in our country, to the effect that new operas should not have a vocal line, since a vocal line is none other than conversation during which intonation needs to be accentuated. An opera is first and foremost a vocal work and the singers need to be engaged in their prime task - singing, not talking, not declaiming and not intoning. All my singing parts are based on a broad cantilena, which takes into account the whole potential of
the human voice - the richest instrument of them all. <...>
The musical flow is uninterrupted, only breaking off at the end of each act. Then it takes up again in the next, moving forward not in small sections but developing on a large symphonic scale. This, of course, has to be taken into account, when this opera is being staged, because in each act - apart from the fourth - there are several scenes and these scenes are separated not by mechanical pauses but by musical interludes, which are designed to provide time for set-changing. Musical interludes... are none other than a continuation and development of the previous musical idea and
they play a very important part in moulding the events taking place on stage. <...> This greatly enhances the importance of the orchestra, which is not merely accompanying but playing a role that is no less significant, and perhaps even more significant than that of the soloists and the chorus. It is essential for the conductor of this opera to find a golden mean, so that without diminishing the orchestral content he at the same time avoids giving it pride of place: the orchestral content must neither blur nor swamp the soloist singers and the chorus.
<...> The chorus is by no means static here, as is often the case in other operas: on the contrary, it plays an active role: the members of the choir have to be able to sing well, act well and move well actively participating in the dynamics of the opera".
(D. Shostakovich, "About my Opera". From the book,D. Shostakovich, "Katerina Ismailova". Libretto, Moscow, 1934))
"This production was an important lesson for me. I feel that with regard to the 'construction' of a musical drama 'Lady Macbeth' represented a definite step forward in my work. Thinking back over my failures... I look for the causes of these failures and explanations for the success of 'Lady Macbeth'. The main thing about 'Lady Macbeth' is the effort made to penetrate as deeply as possible to the essence of this particular material. What made the opera a success was not skimming over the surface but managing to penetrate to the heart of the period and the essence of the tragic conflicts inherent in this subject. How did that come about? Mainly because I strove to make the musical language of the opera as convincing as possible".
(A year after the staging of "Lady Macbeth". Conversation with the composer D. Shostakovich "Vechernyaya Krasnaya Gazeta" - January 14, 1935)