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Adam Fradgley

Birmingham Opera Company

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk

Bleak and brilliant satire, re-shaped and sharpened in Birmingham

Operas | Shostakovich

A bored, unhappily married woman dreams of love and of starting anew elsewhere. When she starts an affair with a rakish farmhand, her passion pushes her to crime...


Birmingham Opera Company's 50th production relocates Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk to a disused, iconic nightclub where, amidst the 150 volunteer actors and chorus, audience members encountered bloody brides, oversized rats and poisoned wedding guests. Accompanied on stage by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and a band from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and with a radical set design by the Banksy collaborators Block 9, ‘the production is perhaps its most brilliant so far’ (The Observer).

At the 2021 International Opera Awards, Birmingham Opera Company won the award for Education and Outreach, while conductor Alpesh Chauhan took home the prize for Newcomer of the Year.

Recorded in March 2019.


Sung in English. Subtitles are available in English with the option of auto-translation into over 100 other languages.

Available from
14.05.2021 at 19h00 CET

Available until
14.08.2021 at 12h00 CET

The WifeChrystal E Williams
The Father in LawEric Greene
The HusbandJoshua Stewart
The LoverBrenden Gunnell
The EngineerThemba Mvula
The DriverDominick Felix
The MaidGrace Nyandoro
The Seedy LoutJames Kryshak
The PorterAndrew Clarke
The StewardJames Ioelu
The Three ForemenAndrew Clarke, Dominick Felix, Jack Sandison
The PriestJames Ioelu
The Father in Law's GhostEric Greene
The Chief of PoliceQuentin Hayes
The Arresting OfficerThemba Mvula
The SocialistEdward Harrisson
The Drunken GuestDominick Felix
The Prison GuardsThemba Mvula, James Ioelu
The PrisonerEric Greene
The Pole DancerLilly Papaioannou
The Other WomanGrace Nyandoro
ChorusBirmingham Opera Company Chorus and Actors
OrchestraCity of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

MusicDmitri Shostakovich
TextAlexander Preis and Dmitri Shostakovich, based on a short story by Nikolai Leskov. English version based on the translation by David Pountney.
ConductorAlpesh Chauhan
DirectorGraham Vick
Movement DirectorRon Howell
Lighting DesignGiuseppe Di Iorio
Chorus MasterJonathan Laird
Music courtesy of Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Limited on behalf of Musikverlag Hans Sikorski GmbH

The wife and her husband are tyrannised by the father in law, bitter that they have not bred him a grandchild. When the husband leaves on business, the wife takes a lover - a new worker.
The father in law finds out and whips the lover to the brink of death. The wife poisons her father in law. Determined to make her new found happiness last, she kills the husband, hides the body and marries the lover.
The police, unhappy at not being invited to the wedding, crash the party and find the body.
In prison, she finds out exactly who she has married.

5 things to know about Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk

1° Stalin’s blockade

Shostakovich’s second opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk has long been associated with controversy. If its sexually explicit, brutal and squalid subject matter is partially responsible for such infamy, the final blow to its reputation has been delivered by its scandal-ridden performance history. Two years after its hugely successful premiere in January 1934, Stalin attended a performance of the opera. Whether he took issue with its provocative plot or its progressive score is not documented. In any case, the opera's success track was stopped by a denunciatory editorial entitled ‘Muddle instead of music’ in the official Communist Party newspaper Pravda. This attack heralded a merciless, widespread and long-lasting ideological clampdown on the Soviet musical world.

2° From novella to opera

In his operatic adaptation of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Shostakovich significantly altered the balance of sympathies of Nikolai Leskov’s original novella, written in 1865. Where Leskov has depicted a cold and appalling woman, Shostakovich considered Katerina as the ‘tragic portrayal of the destiny of a talented, smart and outstanding woman, dying in the nightmarish atmosphere of pre-Revolutionary Russia’ and expressed sympathy with her.  With hindsight, it comes across as bitterly ironic that this opera was singled out to kick off the Soviet artistic purge. Composed in 1932, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was intended as the first part of a trilogy sketching the oppression and emancipation of women before, during and after the Revolution.

3° Why Lady Macbeth?

While Katerina is admittedly a murderer and not exactly a pleasant character, her comparison to Shakespeare’s villain Lady Macbeth, who spurs her husband to commit regicide to become queen, does raise questions. Both women are strong-willed and have blood on their hands. As soon as the initial act of bloodshed occurs, their inhibitions drop making further crimes easier. Both eventually go insane, but their motives differ. Lady Macbeth feels remorse for her craving for power, the bored housewife Katerina, however, is driven by a sudden, excessive passion. Does Katerina deserve to compete for the title of most despised female murderer in the history of theatre?

4° Opera for all by all

Graham Vick is internationally known for turning the opera world on its head. He believes neither that opera must be sung in the original language, nor that it must take place demurely on a theatre stage. His productions are immediate, participatory and diverse and the response has been overwhelming. Even though other directors today have taken up the basic tenets of Vick's approach, his style remains unrivalled; for above and beyond Vick’s particular artistic vision there’s an ability to electrify and motivate a large crowd of community performers - 150 in total - alongside his outstanding professional cast. It is their commitment, mentored by a range of professionals, that is the backbone of the production.

5° Lady Macbeth of Edgbaston Reservoir

Birmingham Opera Company's 50th production moves Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk to the Tower Ballroom, an iconic nightclub in Edgbaston, Birmingham that has seen better days. There the audience stands as the action unfolds around them. The grungy space and costumes - right down to the West African-style fabrics with mushroom and rodent prints that Katerina wears - have been designed by the radical set designers and Banksy collaborators Block9. Alpesh Chauhan, winner of Best Newcomer at the 2021 International Opera Awards, conducts a rousing and invigorating City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Chrystal E. Williams is a steely, electrifying Katerina, Brenden Gunnell a powerfully ringing Sergei. And who can resist the deliciously lecherous, tyrannical father-in-law, to whom Eric Green gives more than his usual zing?