This is the notorious opera enjoyed by many Soviet citizens for 200-odd performances before Uncle Joe decided to take a look, and decided He didn't like it, writing a vociferous article in Pravda that made the composer persona non grata for a time. Ironically, the music is only particularly avant-garde on occasion; it's standard Shostakovich fare for the most part: cleverly sardonic, light and dark. Perhaps the subject matter offended him as much: Katerina is the victim of various men in her family, but in the end she's treated no better by her lover Sergey, who would have been a true working-class hero in a Soviet-realist version of the story. Putting quite a different spin on Katerina than Leskov, the writer of the original story, Shostakovich portrays her at least initially as a victim (and arguably, through to its tragic conclusion, as a victim of her circumstances), but he retains the title of the story, which inevitably colours our judgement of her (though when he revised and revived the work in the 1960s it was more neutrally titled Katerina Ismailova).
The singers and orchestra were all excellent. Larisa Gogolevskaya sang the title role with spectacular power, Viktor Lutsiuk was comically lecherous as Sergey, and Mikhail Petrenko - plainly becoming a favourite of the Proms audience after singing Faffner in Siegfried, and Babi Yar at only five hours' notice on Saturday - was just comic as the Priest. Gergiev is not a conductor I would rush to see, but he certainly demonstrated the skill of the Mariinsky Orchestra.