Leningrad, 1939. Stalin has become the undisputed master of the Soviet Union, social realism has been imposed as the official aesthetic and artists are being arrested and disappearing. Benjamin Fleischmann, a young student at the Conservatory, chooses Chekhov’s story “Rothschild’s Violin” as the basis for a one-act opera. His teacher, Dmitri Shostakovich, has been severely criticized by the cultural commissars for his opera, “Lady Macbeth of Mtensk”, and sought refuge in teaching. 1941. The German army invades Russia. Fleischmann joins the civilian brigades defending Leningrad and is killed. Shostakovich has regained official favour with the patriotic fervour of his Seventh Symphony. Protected now and feeling guilty for it, he decides to orchestrate his dead student’s unfinished opera in order that a work of music bearing Fleischmann’s name may live on to honour his memory.