Just when we thought the season couldn’t get any better, along comes Opera Australia’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk – a first for Melbourne and a true humdinger of an opera. It’s gutsy, in your face and relentlessly dramatic and moving. The music of Shostakovich, who attracted the ire and banishment of Stalin for this creation, gets to the very core of the action – and the guts of the audience. This is music and drama that moves, emotes and makes all those other dreary nights in the State Theatre at last worthwhile.
The sheer utter despair of life in collective community Russia is brilliantly portrayed and the music underlines every emotion of the relentless tale of passion, murder, duplicity and totalitarian control. Susan Bullock cuts a pitiful figure in the lead role and her real life partner, Richard Berkeley-Steele, makes the most of his role as her relentless pursuer. The action is raw and confronting and about as close to realism as one can expect while the characters are reaching for their high Cs.
The music is sublime, the chorus work impeccable and the ever-interchanging set a marvel of bleakness. And the scene on the road to the Siberian prison camp remains etched deep in the psyche long after the last chords have faded.