March 3, 2003

Shostakovich & Bernstein: Doomed Passionate Love


Dmitri Shostakovich
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Opera in 4 acts, 4th act

Leonard Bernstein
West Side Story, Suite I and Suite II


Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
Kent Nagano - Dirigent
Ernst Senff Chor Berlin

Solveig Kringelborn - Sopran
Katharina Kammerloher - Mezzosopran
Jon Villars - Tenor
Jon Ketilsson - Tenor
Dietrich Henschel - Bariton
Alexander Vinogradov - Bass

Leserbrief/readers comment Druckversion/printversion

Shostakovich & Bernstein: Doomed Passionate Love

Von Nancy Chapple

In a daring and unusual piece of programming, the fourth act of Dmitri Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was paired with two concert suites from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story. Kent Nagano conducted the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester and the Ernst Senff Choir; numerous international and local soloists sang in both works. Despite the thematic similarities between the works - passionate love inevitably thwarted by societal pressure, the musical differences were more apparent - Russian pathos vs. American foot-tapping rhythms. But it made for a wonderful evening.

Dmitri Shostakovich

To briefly recount the fourth act of Lady Macbeth: Katerina and her lover Sergej are part of a group of forced laborers compelled to march across the Russian steppes. She bribes her way past a guard to visit him, only to be thrust aside as the cause of all his troubles. Sergej courts instead the young Sonjetka - who demands warm socks as the price for her 'love'. Sergej talks Katerina into removing her own and gives them to Sonjetka, thus winning her over. Teased by Sonjetka, Katerina knows she's been abandoned - and she pushes her rival off a bridge, plunging to her own death immediately thereafter.

The Old Convict, Alexander Vinogradov, beautifully opened the scene in a tragic, resigned mood. The lower strings played flowing 8th notes evocative of Katerina's anxious soul for Solveig Kringelborn's first entrance, and the English horn wove a beautiful melody around her voice. Katharina Kammerloher's Sonjetka was coquettish and provocative. Kringelborn sang warmly, lovingly, as she (in words only) removed her socks for Sergej. The crowd of laborers played by the choir was catty and biting, making it clear no one likes a loser. Even when orchestra and choir were at full volume, the sound remained subtly differentiated. Sergej and Sonjetka briefly sing praise to their love, accompanied by delightful syncopations in the orchestra. The strings' final col legno effectively depicted the laborers marching on inexorably. In Nagano's interpretation, Shostakovich is a melodic and colorful composer.

Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein's songs had been arranged into two suites: first the schmaltzier love songs: Maria, One Hand, One Heart, Somewhere, and the Balcony Scene; then the set pieces about the gang conflict: I Feel Pretty, Jet Song, America, Tonight. Jon Villars sang Tony. Though he strode onto stage with the self-confidence of a prominent gang member, he was unfortunately struggling with a cold that made it hard for him to sing smoothly: certain lower, quieter notes did not speak at all. Everyone on stage seemed to have fun (including the solo cello, who both played beautiful solo melodies and spun his cello around at the pegbox a couple times), though Kringelborn did not look physically quite right as the young, innocent Maria. In fact, separating the love and gang stories into two suites seemed unnecessary; the first one was slightly disappointing, but the jazzy second one made up for it. Again, Katharina Kammerloher, here playing Anita, seemed to revel in her role. The catty girls mocking Maria - "she isn't in love / she's merely insane" - were so credible that the audience started tapping their feet. And the dueling duo between Anita and Rosalia on Puerto Rico's inherent virtues and incurable flaws swept everyone away. The audience broke into joyous applause after each number. The English was usually quite good; only at one point did Kammerloher stumble over the unidiomatic "Smoke on your pipe and put that in!" The Ernst Senff Choir's Shostakovich / Bernstein switch from sober black to white shirts for the men, scarfs of rainbow colors for the women looked a bit silly to start with, but it seemed to help them loosen up and get into their gang roles.

Nagano brought Villars and Kringelborn back onto stage to sing "Tonight" one more rousing time, and everyone headed home smiling.

(This review originally appeared at