Shostakovich and the Black Monk is a new music-theatre piece for the Emerson String Quartet and seven actors. It comes from the original idea by the quartet member Philip Setzer and was written by James Glossman, starring Len Cariou / David Strathairn as Shostakovich and Jay O. Sanders as Stalin. The production dynamically explores the frontier between fact and fantasy, myth—and mythmaking—and history.

On a three-level playing space we see Dmitri Shostakovich, at the end of his life or perhaps even beyond, reaching out to the audience to finally tell the story he has labored, and failed, to make into an opera for nearly fifty years: “The Black Monk,” Anton Chekhov’s classic, even gothic tale of Madness vs Art, of possible Genius in rebellion against absolute Authority.

He does this in partnership with the Quartet and with 5 other actors with context and imagery enhanced by projections on a screen above and behind him.

But standing in the way, as always in Shostakovich’s life, is Josef Stalin, alternatively terrifying and charming, who moves between all levels of the story—lodged as he is in Dmitri’s imagination—to constantly subvert the story told into a critique of Shostakovich’s own life, to disrupt and compromise the composer’s possible final triumph.

Shostakovich and the Black Monk is the duel between these vastly different sorts of Titans—and the story of a man, though physically weak and often ailing, who rises to greatness and triumph through wit, humanity, humor, endurance, and infinite musical soul.

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Great Lakes

June 17, 2017 at 8:00pm
DIA’s Detroit Film Theatre Stage


July 19, 2017 at 8:00pm
Seiji Ozawa Hall

Princeton University

September 28, 2017 at 7:30pm
Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall