In 1936, Stalin went to the opera to see Dmitri Shostakovich’s adaption of The Lady of Mtsensk. Supposedly, Stalin “stalked out ill-pleased” after seeing the opera, and later declared a large crackdown on all artistic expression. Although there was widespread enjoyment of the opera, the vulgarity and chaotic music caused American performances of the opera to be cancelled. Following Stalin’s order, Shostakovich stopped producing the opera (and all other works) until after Stalin’s death.
However, Katerina’s spirit continued on despite Stalin’s dictatorship. Her sense of freedom and rebellion endured through Stalin’s reign, and her life still brings in audiences today. The realness of Katerina’s struggle is portrayed as she battles with boredom as the merchant’s wife and attempts to find excitement with the farm boy. You become enraptured by their love story, but then you despise her when she kills innocent people for her own selfish reasons. Just when you think you’ve put Katerina in a box, she endears herself to you again because of how annoying Sergei (the farmer boy) is on the train to prison. His cheating makes you feel empathy for Katerina, who only wanted to be with her love.
These raw, emotional internal conflicts captures the audience and you need to know what happens next to Katerina. Stalin was afraid of Katerina’s power because he wanted to use this power for himself. Katerina encompasses all the best and very worst bits of ourselves and proudly displays them on stage. Stalin couldn’t compete with that… A middle-aged, boring guy versus a lively, (borderline) insane woman – whose story would you wanna follow? And who would you want to listen to?
Stalin was nervous of anyone, even fictional characters, retaining too much control over the Soviet Union because he was so power hungry. So, he decided to shut down the whole production. However, Stalin couldn’t stop Katerina’s life and vitality from continuing on after he died (she is a fictional character, so she can’t really die). The Lady of Mtsensk still brings in audiences worldwide, while Stalin is pretty much globally known as one of the worst humans, like, ever.
P.S. Check out this 2017 trailer for a modern adaption of Lady M!