Leskov he wrote his short story in 1864, during the first period of his work, and reflects his memories of a real event. With the title “Shakespearean”, the author is faithful to the general tendency of Russian literature of the time to recall in their titles famous works and types of classical world literature. Leskov writes with a strange to satirical outlook, with a sense of effective abbreviation, gradation of story, and emphasizing the characters’ natural psychology. Katěrina Lvovna is a girl who does not blame her fate – she cannot choose how poor she is and when the widower Ismajlov calls her, she will marry him in peace. Then, bored after several years of childless marriage, she meets a new young assistant in her husband’s business, Sergei, and she completely fails. She transforms into a confident woman with a defiant demeanor who subordinates all her behavior to her love. He does not hesitate to poison his cruel stepfather, then to kill her husband during a fight between the two men, to live with his beloved Sergei “in a heap” and to become pregnant with him. After several months, the attempt to settle the property after the husband’s disappearance brings to the scene an orphaned little nephew of the Ismajlovs, whose ancestors had owned a large part of Ismajlov’s business for years, which was not known. The existence of Katěrina’s boy and the expected loss of part of his possessions does not matter, but Sergei encourages her with hints until Katěrina chokes the boy. The murder is discovered and she and Sergei are found guilty and deported to Siberia. However, once expelled, Sergey has an affair with other women, condemns, dismisses Katěrina, humiliates her. In a strange ecstasy, she throws Sergei’s new mistress into the river, while falling with her into a torrent of predatory Volga. Leskov finds surreal elements – for example, a black cat that appears out of nowhere, talks to Katěrina and poses as the reincarnation of her poisoned stepfather. And at the very end, when a listless, broken woman seems to lose her mind, she sees the heads of everyone she murdered rise from the surface of the Volga.
It is interesting to know what other artists took from Leskov’s surreal short story and how they reworked it for the set design. Opera of the same name Dmitri Shostakovich had its premiere in January 1934 (in 1963 the second version of the opera was premiered under the title Katerina Ismailova). Shostakovich partially altered Leskov’s work, omitting the murder of a child in the opera. Sergei remains Katera’s humanly repulsive accomplice, in Shostakovich’s words “the cruel, cunning and criminal Don Juan”. The two lovers are convicted and deported to Siberia. As with Leskov, Kateřina ends her life in dark waters during a fight with her new mistress. However, Shostakovich made a significant factual error in his conception – Kateřina marries Sergei, although her husband is missing only for a short time, and she is not declared a widow (for logical reasons, no marriage has place at Leskov). His corpse is accidentally discovered at the wedding. In Shostakovich, there remains something human about Catherine and light-relieving circumstances – a great love, for which, in the end, betrayed and humiliated by her lover, she herself pays brutally.
AT Libor Vaculik however, only permanent and pure evil reigns. Vaculík stages all the murders, including the murder of a small child, which also takes up a relatively large space in the context of the entire production. The attempted mass rape of the maids is also relatively realistic. An atmosphere of cruelty and anger is present on stage from the first to the last moment, without the possibility of rest.
Vaculík conveys Russian environmental history to Victorian England, Katherine is by Katěrina Lvovna Ismajlovna, her husband Alex, Sergei the day laborer Bastien. However, the social conditions of the two countries at the same time were completely different, it is enough to recall that slavery was abolished by Tsar Alexander II. in Russia only in 1861. If Vaculík completely neglected the life of the chasa at the country court, this geographical displacement would in fact be pointless – after all, England is the cradle of detective literature. But Vaculík did not do this, the behavior of the lords towards servants and hunting corresponds to the Russian environment. Moreover, the stories of Leskovo, Shostakovich and Vaculik are not detective novels.