Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Shostakovich - Katerina Izmailova|
Actors: Galina Vishnevskaya, Artyom Inozemtsev, Nikolai Boyarsky, Aleksandr Sokolov, Konstantin Simeonov
Director: Mikhail Shapiro
Genres: Indie & Art House, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Dr. J. J. Kregarman | Denver, Colorado United States | 01/12/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This DVD has several things going for it. Shortly after this film was made in 1966 Herbert von Karajan, after viewing it, said at the time that he considered it the best of all filmed operas. It is indeed a great film which emphasises the very Russianness of this opera. The final scenes, for example, detailing the journey to Siberia are devastating. And then there is Galina Vishnevskaya's singing and acting of Katerina. It is indeed a performance worthy of its reputation. And the sound, singing and acting (by, other than Vishnevskay, a different group of people) is quite good. Yet do not let this be your only DVD of this great work. Shostakovich cut it somewhat for this film which runs only 112 minutes and there will be complete versions out there soon. But, never the less this is indeed something special."
V. Stasov | 03/11/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Here we have what may prove to be one of the most outstanding opera films of all time - if you can tolerate the grating and tortured music of Shostakovich's most successful opera. The history of Katerina Izmailova reflects the agonized life of its great composer and his difficult, uncertain existence during Stalin's Reign of Terror. The opera was first suppressed then revised in order to accommodate the opinions of the Soviet dictatorship.
Criticized by Stalin as "muddle, not music", the opera - originally called Lady Macbeth of Mstensk - was banned after its initial spectacular success. Its composer lived an insecure and anxietous existence amidst the ubiquitous threat of imminent torture and death shared by so many millions during Stalin's era. The dictator's disapproval meant potential disaster at any moment for those unfortunate victims of his disfavor. And so traumatized was he by Stalin's criticism, Shostakovich never wrote another opera.
In the 1960's, after the thaw that followed Stalin's death in 1953, it was decided to make a film of this operatic masterpiece. Galina Vishnevskaya was asked to star in this production, and fortunately for us, we are able to experience her in all her ravishing glory.
Here is one of our only opportunities to witness the unique art of Vishnevskaya. She was a magnificent woman and artist, who so threatened the Soviet power structure with her independence and outspokenness that nearly all traces of her were erased following her forced exile from the USSR. This suppression and obliteration of her work occurred in spite of the fact that she had been one of the Bolshoi's greatest stars.
She and her husband, the famed cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, were close to Shostakovich, and this revised version of Katerina Izmailova was written with Vishnevskaya in mind. She sings with a unique sound - very Russian and very dramatic. She is the only person in this film who sings as well as acts. Her performance of the bored, frustrated housewife is terrifying in its intensity. The last scenes of the opera are hair-raising with their high-pitched ferocity.
The story line is this: Katerina is an illiterate but beautiful and passionate woman married to an impotent, wealthy merchant whose lecherous father would like a go at her, but his advanced age interferes with his ability to take action. Her life is empty until a handsome and literate worker comes along and adds the very spice her life is missing. They kill her husband and father-in-law, marry, but get caught by the police and sent to a penal colony in the wastelands of Siberia.
During this endless and brutal journey to prison, her lover Sergei becomes bored with her and takes up with another woman. In the end, Katerina kills her too. She grabs her rival and jumps overboard into the icy waters that carry their prison ship to its final destination, dragging them both to their death.
In her autobiography, Vishnevskaya relays interesting facts about the making of this film. She had to wear thick, woolen pants under the blankets during the bedroom scene so that the prim Soviet audience wouldn't be horrified that a married woman would allow a man's body to touch hers. While the camera never shows her in these heavy pants (she's always dressed beautifully) we assume the crew would have spread gossip about her and ruined her name. She also had to retake her final scene in the frigid waters, with frogmen on rafts nearby in case hypothermia overtook her.
Galina Vishnevskaya was a unique phenomenon in her day. A contemporary of Maria Callas, she too was a great and glamorous singing actress, but she was the intellectual that Callas was not. She lived amid the Russian intelligentsia and wrote an autobiography that is an outstanding literary work. Galina: A Russian Story
It's a pity that we don't have more footage of her sensational acting and singing. Two other videos preserve her art. A clip of her as Lisa from Pique Dame can be relished on "Russian Opera at the Bolshoi". Russian Opera at the Bolshoi / Chaliapin, Kozlovsky, Vishevskaya And there is a brief and priceless scene from Aida on the DVD "The Great Singers of Russia, vol. 2", where Vishnevksaya's beauty, acting and vocal talents can make one cry over the loss of performance footage caused by an ignorant and short-lived tyrannical government. Great Singers of Russia, Vol 2 - Petrov, Andzhaparidze, Arkhipova, Vishnevskaya, Mazurok, Rudenko, Nesterenko, Obraztsova, Atlantov, Kasrashvili, Borodina, Hvorostovsky, Kazarnovskaya"
Vishnevskaya: The Real Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 01/29/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"March 2007 - I have waited 30 years to see this and was not disappointed - only happy to have lived long enough to finally have this opportunity!
First off: Vishnevskaya. For those, like me, who'd only experienced this artist in concert, to finally witness her in a complete role - and one as tailor-made for her as this one proves to be - is overwhelming. She opens the film with that "boredom aria" in a voice entirely unrecognizable harkening back more to her jazz and nightclub singing roots than the world of opera - almost like Billy Holiday imitating Rosa Ponselle.
Visnhevskaya's face is unbelievable. Forget about expressions changing over the course of a film - her face is like some great mask and in less than the blink of an eye she can be angelic, saintly, demonic, tortured, nearly looking like a teenager and then a run down, broken old woman. Likewise, she presents as stunning and beautiful one second and grotesquely haggard the next. To say watching her is fascinating is an understatement.
Though we know about her doing her own stunts in the film's tragic and violent (and here, bone chillingly horrifying) ending, they simply HAD to use a stunt double in one scene (and you can't really tell) when Katarina violently kicks out her bedroom window (which IS clearly Vishnevskaya) leaps out about 8 feet - (almost 3 stories in the air!) and drops to a landing beneath her, then tears down the stairs like a madwoman. (Later, I rewound it about 5 times to try and see where the switch was made . . . I couldn't.)
Mikhail Shapiro's film is gorgeously grotesque. Soviet cinema in 1966 wasn't among the best, but Shapiro's techniques, seemingly borrowing equal parts Hitchcockian hyper-realism with Wiene's "Dr. Caligari" style silent movie, surrealistic spookiness from the earliest days of film. There is a visible pulsating quality in the transfer (in the original, too? I couldn't know) a sort of silent movie "flicker" in the washed out, oddly green/blue hued sepia toned color. Ingeniously, Shapiro layers image over image - such as the very beginning scene as we watch Katerina sitting in a window looking out and the images she sings of are projected like home movies against the exterior white walls of her home. It is a brilliant device that early on pulls us directly into the mind of Katerina and how later, despite her brutal actions, keeps us on her side.
With the score so severely cut to fit within the framework of the film, we loose some truly great music, but points up the ennui and violence into nearly unbearably vivid relief.
Those unfamiliar with Shostakovich's score - or scared of it - will here get some of the most tuneful and beautiful music from this opera and as cast here, one practically revels (whenever possible) in its "Fiddler on the Roof" nightmare quality.
For the lovemaking music that begins the second act , Shostakovich draws on the romantic Russian tradition with music of ineffable sweetness, which here, is as jarring as everything that comes before or after it.
Unafraid to combine horror and hilarity, Shapiro adds yet another amazing sequence to the film when Katerina hears the ghost of her freshly murdered father-in-law. Onstage this scene we usually get Boris belting out his lines in white make-up, etc. Here, Shapiro plays up Katerina's nightmarish guilt, as truly ghostlike, he bursts through a set of doors, his nearly cartoon like head 50 times larger than life and then giant head hovering and singing over Katerina and Sergei's sleeping bodies. I laughed and cringed simultaneously. I loved it.
The final scenes of the endless march through Siberia is enough to chill you to the marrow. As a big fan of Vishnevskaya, I've read her account innumerable times, but even that, and knowing this opera, could not prepare me for those final, violent plunges as she takes Sonetka down with her into that horrible icy, death. Vishnevskaya is absolutely unhinged here bringing the horror even further in an image I won't divulge, but will state I honestly did not see coming.
I can honestly, once again state with complete conviction I am so happy to be alive right now, for more than obvious reasons (longevity, health, etc.) but to be to live long enough to be able to indulge my senses with the visionary work of unknown masters and near forgotten artists like Mr. Shapiro.
Anyone on the fence about this one should just climb right over to the other side. This is amazing operatic film making and unlike most things any of us are likely to ever see.