Our music for today comes from Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. This song is a soprano solo titled Katerina’s Aria, and it is sung by Galina Vishnevskaya.

This opera was based on a Russian folk story about a young woman who falls in love but is shunned by the object of her affections. This rejection later drives her to madness and, eventually, murder. However, Shostakovich was not interested in the story itself; rather, he was interested in exploring all of the possibilities of the soprano voice. The opera is almost entirely focused on glittering soprano solo lines, and even the oft-powerful tenor line is noticeably absent. Shostakovich even changed the folk story so that he could give the soprano more of a solo presence. The aria that you hear this recording is one in which the main character, Katerina, sings of the guilt and remorse that have resulted from her murderous actions.

Shostakovich which was not only interested in displaying the soprano voice through a dark and tragic story. He also wanted to paint a new and different conception of what love could be. As he wrote about the opera, “I dedicated Lady Macbeth to my bride, my future wife, so naturally the opera is about love, too, but not only love. It’s also about how love could have been if the world weren’t full of vile things.”

The opera enjoyed spectacular success until early 1936, when it was the object of a sudden and shockingly harsh reprimand by the ruling Communist Party. This denunciation was, for the time being, a death knell for this opera. Sadly, it became well known later on largely because of its history of censorship.

The singer you will hear is Galina Vishnevskaya, who was honored as a People’s Artist of Russia in 1966. As a child prodigy growing up under the guidance of the renowned Moscow Conservatory, she rose to fame at a young age and performed most of the world’s most popular Sopranos lines before the age of 30. She was married to the world famous cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, and the two of them where best friends with Shostakovich himself. It is therefore quite likely that Shostakovich wrote this soprano line with Galina’s voice in mind.


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