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Stephen Habington
La Scena Musicale, January 2010

Two strong versions of this opera have been issued on DVD: from Barcelona (2004—EMI) and Amsterdam (2006—Opus Arte). This Florence production is vastly superior to both. Directors in the West have demonstrated a penchant for vulgarity and elevated shock value (as if the adultery and multiple murder of the plot were not shocking enough). The tendency could reflect reaction to the real-life drama of the composer’s 1936 denunciation when the opera provided a convenient pretext for Stalinist persecution. Lev Dodin allows the performance to unfold naturally without superfluous embellishment. The result is the most authentic Russian setting since the Lenfilm 1966 on-location, cinematic production of the truncated version (Katerina Izmailova) which featured Galina Vishnevskaya in the title role (available on DVD from Decca). A solid cast of Slavs was assembled in Florence to faithfully depict mannerism as well as language. Jeanne-Michèle Charbonet may not be Vishnevskaya but she gives us a convincing tragic heroine. Sergej Kunaev is suitably rotten as her seducer. The chorus is well drilled and James Conlon demonstrates mastery of the score.

Blu-ray imagery and sound are top-quality. The performance is also available on conventional DVD from Arthaus. Collectors with an interest in Soviet music should not hesitate to acquire this marvelous production.

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