Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dmitri Shostakovich's Леди Макбет Мценсково уезда

No, I am not kidding. There exists a Russian opera, first performed in 1934, called "Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District".
Under Stalin, art in the USSR flourished... as long as it sang the praises of the Communist Party. Writers and artists had to adhere to "socialist realism". And so came about "Lady Macbeth of Mtensk District".
This charming little opera is about a woman who falls in love with one of her husband's employees and kills her husband. It was initially very popular (although a New York Sun critic called in "pornophony"), but was eventually discredited in Pravda, the Communist Party newspaper, in an anonymous article sometimes attributed to Stalin. The following is a direct quote from my Communism textbook: "Lady Macbeth of Mtensk District, Dmitri Shostakovich's opera, offended Stalin by its display of feminine sexuality and - just as bad- its failure to supply the public with tunes they could whistle." As we all know, Stalin is not someone you want to piss off, and a whistling Stalin is a happy Stalin. Shostakovich promised to do better in the future. Because the opera was subsequently banned in Russia for the next 30 years, most people only know it onlybecause of its censorship. The composer revised the opera and re-named it "Катерина Измайлова".

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