Works Compositions for the Stage

“Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District”. Opera

Opus 27a Opus 29a

Opus 29
1930-1932 year

Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Op. 29. Opera. Score. (In two volumes.)
Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Op. 29. Opera. Piano score.


Leningrad State Academic Maly Opera House. Director N.V. Smolich, artist V. V. Dmitriev, conductor S.A. Samosud. Premiere in Moscow: January 24, 1934, under the name "Katerina Izmailova", Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater. Production by V.I. Nemirovich-Danchenko, director B.A. Mordvinov, artist V.V. Dmitriev, conductor G.A. Stolyarov.

first publication:

Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre, 1933 Score; Muzgiz, 1935 Piano score


RSALA, rec. gr. 2048, inv. 2, f. 32-35; the Glinka All-Russia Museum Association of Musical Culture, rec. gr. 32, f. 271, 284.

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).
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".

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."

"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".

"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".

"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".

Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District
Op. 29

Opera in four acts, with libretto by Aleksandr Preis and the composer, based on the novel-sketch written in 1865 by Nikolai Leskov.

Dedication: Nina Vasilievna Varzar.

  Shostakovich worked on the opera for almost three years, from 1930 to December 1932. We can assume the work began on 14 January 1930, which was the date the author wrote on the first page of the piano draft with instrumentation layout. There are author’s notes indicating the time and place of
the beginning and end of each act of the opera in the author’s manuscript of the score that has survived:
  • Act One was begun on 14 October 1930 in Leningrad, work on it continued in 1931 in the cities of Gudauta and Batum and was finished on 5 November 1931 in Tiflis (Tbilisi);
  • Act Two was begun on 19 November 1931 in Leningrad and finished on 8 March 1932 in Moscow;
  • Act Three was begun on 5 April 1932 in Leningrad and finished on 15 August 1932 in Gaspra (the Crimea);
  • Act Four was finished on 17 December 1932 in Leningrad (there is no note on the time and place of the beginning of the work on Act Four in the author’s manuscript of the score).
  Soon after the opera was finished on 17 January 1933, a fragment of it was performed at the Leningrad Philharmonic—the interlude between Scene Four and Scene Five (passacaglia), which, according to the reminiscences of an eyewitness, “was enthusiastically received by the audience”.
  In 1932-1934, along with finishing the score of the opera and preparing for its premiere in two theatres at once, the Maly Opera Theatre in Leningrad and the Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre in Moscow, Shostakovich continued working on the piano score of the opera. In 1933, a preliminary
version was issued—a collotype edition of the piano score in which the dates of the author’s last proofreading feature at the end of each act—they all date to April-May 1933. The composer probably finished this work entirely less than a year later: in June 1934, the piano score had already been
submitted to the State Music Publishers in Moscow, and in August 1935, it was signed to press and published soon thereafter.
  The premiere of the opera was held at almost the same time both in Leningrad and Moscow: on 22 January 1934 at the State Academic Maly Opera Theatre (conductor Samuil Samosud; director Nikolai Smolich) and on 24 January 1934 at the State Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre (production supervisor Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko; conductor Grigori Stolyarov; director Boris Mordvinov). Both performances were very successful and continued to thrive for the next two years (for example, more than eighty performances were shown in Leningrad during this time). In Moscow, the opera was called Katerina Izmailova; moreover, as suggested by the director, several changes were introduced into the opera libretto. The libretto text of the Moscow performance was soon published. These performances were both highly praised by the critics and  the  composer  himself. The  opera  of  the  young  talented  composer  was  enthusiastically  received  by  the  public and  music community of Moscow and Leningrad. The press commented on the opera’s virtues; it was assigned one of the first places in Soviet music culture.
  In 1934-1936, the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District was performed abroad with invariable success—in Bratislava, Cleveland, Stockholm, Prague, Philadelphia, Zurich, London, Ljubljana, Buenos Aires, and Copenhagen. In New York, fragments of the opera were performed under the baton of
Arturo Toscanini, and then the opera was performed on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera (conductor Arthur Rodzinsky). These productions and concert performances brought the opera and its author world renown and popularity. In 1935, the opera was performed on the second stage of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. The premiere was held on 26 December 1935 under the baton of Alexander Melik-Pashaev (stage director was Nikolai Smolich).
  It was during this time of Lady Macbeth’s widespread recognition and success abroad that the situation dramatically changed in the composer’s homeland. A month after the premiere—on 26 January 1936—Stalin attended a performance on the second stage of the Bolshoi Theatre. Two days later, on 28 January, an article called “Muddle Instead of Music” was published in Pravda on Stalin’s instructions and expressing his opinion about the opera. It described the opera as a work that did not meet the demands of the Soviet public, while the author was accused of naturalism and vulgarity. The tone of the article was disgustingly mocking; the music was described in a sharp and rude manner. Published on the front page of the newspaper as an editorial, this article became a guide to action: another political campaign began “against formalism and falsity in music”, and Shostakovich and his opera were chosen as the main target. “Creative discussions”, at which both the opera and its author were slandered, were held all over the country in music and public organizations. Soon the opera was removed from the repertoire and banned from the stage. It seemed that it would unlikely ever return to Soviet opera theatres. The events involving Lady Macbeth also affected the fate of the Fourth Symphony, which the composer finished in 1936: it was not performed for many years. This was an extremely difficult time for Shostakovich. Triumph was replaced by a fall from grace. Many of those who exalted his music now turned away from him and, in harmony with the official situation, criticized and defamed his opera in every way. In these difficult circumstances, Shostakovich showed extreme strength of spirit. He did not repent of his mistakes and did not denounce Lady Macbeth.
  In the mid-1950s, when there was hope that Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District would be staged at the Maly Opera Theatre in Leningrad, Shostakovich began working on a second edition of the opera. But the history of this edition was also full of drama at first. In 1956, a special commission chaired by Dmitri Kabalevsky did not recommend the opera for production “due to its major ideological and artistic defects”. The premiere of the opera’s second edition (Katerina Izmailova) was not held until 1963 on the stage of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre in Moscow under the baton of Gennadi Provatorov. In 1965, its score was published by Muzyka Publishers. The score of the first edition of the opera was never published during Shostakovich’s lifetime.
  During the second half of the 1970s, the composer’s widow, Irina Shostakovich, gave Mstislav Rostropovich her copy of the manuscript for performing and recording. After the Rostropovich recorded the opera in 1978, this music ended up at Hans Sikorski Publishers, after they obtained exclusive rights to hire out the first edition of the opera from Shostakovich’s descendants. Later Hans Sikorski Publishers gave a copy of this edition to DSCH Publishers for hire in Russia and post-soviet territory.
  The first edition of the opera of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District was staged in a concert performance for the first time after a long interval—in St. Petersburg in 1996 and in Moscow in 1997— under the baton of Rostropovich. This performance was the most important event in the country’s music life. In subsequent years, a few more performances of the opera were held in Russia (at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, at the Helikon Opera Theatre in Moscow, and at the Novosibirsk Opera Theatre). In 2004, the first edition of the opera was performed on the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow (music director of the performance and conductor Zoltan Peshko, director-producer Temur Chkheidze).


  • Galina Vishnevskaya (Katerina), Nicolai Gedda (Sergei), Dimiter Petkov (Boris), Werner Krenn (Zinovi); Ambrosian Opera Chorus, John McCarthy (chorus-master), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Mstislav Rostropovich (conductor). 1978 // HMV ASD 3664-6.
  • Maria Ewing (Katerina), Sergei Larin (Sergei), Aage Haugland (Boris), Philip Langridge (Zinovi), Eléna Zaremba (Sonyetka); Chorus and Orchestra of the Opéra-Bastille, Paris; Myung-Whun Chung (conductor). 1992 // Deutsche Grammophon 437 511-2CH, 1993.