Graham Vick’s site-specific production of Shostakovich’s mocking, transgressive opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk – which takes place in a seedy nightclub on the fringes of Birmingham – is one of sheer sensory overload.
Immersed in a roiling crowd of prostitutes, policemen, drunks and lowlifes, the audience is jostled and shoved around, overpowered by the brass band, and dazzled by the lights that pick out the key scenes.
Above the dance floor, members of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra sit behind glowing music stands, wringing out the rage and the lyricism in Shostakovich’s mercurial score. Calm and unhurried, conductor Alpesh Chauhan manages to keep them in touch with the singers even when they’re at the far end of the room.
As Katerina (the Lady Macbeth of the title), Chrystal E Williams is purringly magnificent – a gorgeous creature who is desperate for more action than her weedy husband (Joshua Stewart) and leering father-in-law (Eric Greene, a velvet-voiced bully) can provide. There’s a also revealing turn by Brenden Gunnell as Katerina’s redneck lover Sergei, humping energetically in his underpants.
There are too many remarkable performances to mention, including a 100-strong chorus and 50 actors drawn from communities all over Birmingham. In a miracle of stage management, they swarm over the nightclub floor and mini-stages, moving the props and wheeling the singers around in warehouse cages. When the chorus, dotted through the audience, bursts into song, it’s magnificent. You’re surrounded by remarkable voices who will no doubt turn into soloists in future productions.