The life of composer Dmitri Shostakovich and his relationship with the soviet regime and with dictator Stalin was already the subject of ‘Testimony’ where Ben Kingsley played the lead role. As a human being he was intimidated and oppressed, often criticized by the regime, and Stalin himself kept an eye on his creation. He chose to compromise in order to save his life and his power of creation, but the splendid music he composed reflects the torments, the pride and the soul of the Russian people confronted with some of the hardest years in its history. Now, this docudrama incorporating an opera in film deals with one specific episode and them in Shostakovich’s life – the writing of the opera ‘The Violin of Rothschild’ and his relation to the Jewish culture and music.

The story takes us back to the years before the second world war, when Shostakovitch befriends one of his students, the Jewish musician Benjamin Fleischmann. When the young disciple proposes a plan of an opera based on a story by Chekhov with a Jewish theme and featuring Jewish-inspired music Shostakovitch encourages him, Moreover, as the student goes to war and falls defending the city of Leningrad under blockade, the master takes over the work and finishes it. It was however very late that it could be put on scene, many years after Stalin’s death, and only for one time during the Soviet regime. The night after the premiere it was again forbidden. In the Soviet Union where the Jewish revival started immediately after the Six Days War and was to be followed by the mass emigration to Israel the opera written almost two decades before on a libretto inspired by Chekhov was considered ‘Zionist propaganda’.

The film deals quite efficiently with the characters and their fight for intellectual and artistic survival. The opera in film is quite good, probably the best part.

I found on youTube a version of the opera for yourselves to judge (not the same as in the film).