Katerina Izmailova | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Katerina Izmailova

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During the dark days of censorship in the Soviet Union--from World War II to glasnost--about the only endorsed performing arts were ballet and opera. No expense was spared when it came to sumptuous revivals of 19th-century masterpieces that ironically (or intentionally) recalled Russia's imperial past, so most of these productions featured stellar casts and top-notch orchestras. The best of them, such as the Bolshoi's Boris Godunov in the 50s and the Kirov State Theater's Prince Igor in the 60s, were later adapted equally lavishly to film. The fate of Katerina Izmailova, the film version of Shostakovich's 1956 revision of his 1932 opera The Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, is atypical. Stalin had objected to the original staging of this tawdry tale of lust, adultery, and murder in feudal Russia for its overt sexuality and ambiguous morality, and a ban was lifted only after the composer sanitized the score. In 1966 the film was shot with the Shevchenko Opera and Ballet Theater Orchestra under the baton of Konstantin Simeonov and starring the great soprano Galina Vishnevskaya (who later sought asylum in the West with husband Mstislav Rostropovich), and Mikhail Shapiro's direction made the most of the claustrophobic, naturalistic sets. But shortly after the film's release, the Brezhnev regime found fault with the film's sympathetic portrayal of Katerina and shelved it. It was finally rereleased in 1990; this screening is believed to be the first in the Chicago area. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, April 2, 3:30, 443-3737.

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