Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

Puccini Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera House, London

Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Maria Guleghina (Lady) and Željko Lučić (Macbeth) [Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera]
13 Nov 2007

Macbeth at the Met

Verdi, a born skeptic where the supernatural is concerned, did not seem to know quite what to do with the witches in Macbeth and was far too loyal to Shakespeare to reduce their role – he knew how closely the play was bound to them, famous for them.

Giuseppe Verdi: Macbeth
Metropolitan Opera House, performance of November 3.

Maria Guleghina (Lady), Željko Lučić (Macbeth), Dimitri Pittas (Macduff), John Relyea (Banquo), Richard Thomas (Malcolm). Conducted by James Levine. Production by Adrian Noble.

Above: Maria Guleghina (Lady) and Željko Lučić (Macbeth)
All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of Metropolitan Opera

 

(Shakespeare wrote the play, remember, for James I, a descendant of Banquo’s, a passionate believer in witchcraft and the author of a book on demonology. There’s no way to know how much of this credence the author shared.) In the opera, the witches’ off-kilter polka in the opening scene is peculiar but not exactly sinister; their whirling waltz in the cauldron scene is not music for a ballroom but does not stink of black magic. He does much better with the ghostly evocations of bagpipes (bassoons and oboes) for the apparitions of the kings.

Stage directors tend to share Verdi’s ambivalence (if that’s what it was), and they have the additional problem of making sense of what modern audiences no longer take seriously. In a recent production in Istanbul, the witches were humorless demonic forces motivating all the wicked actions of the opera – which I think is a mistake. Ludicrous witches, however, were the great flaw in Adrian Noble’s new production at the Met – an enormous crowd of bedraggled park bench ladies in ratty housecoats, clunky shoes and socks, pin-on hats, and handbags wielded like the weapons of Monty Python drag queens. Are they intended to be funny or eldritch? Though this is a puzzlement Verdi may have shared, it seemed a desperate attempt to find a modern equivalent in gooseflesh to Shakespeare’s voices of Fate who vanish into thin air. (The Met’s witches do not vanish at all; they run offstage.)

The scenes that tend to stump the average director stumped Noble as well: Banquo the soldier vet sings his haunted aria to Fleance after acknowledging the tramps gathered around a steel-drum fire; their casual friendliness then turns inexplicably to menace. The omission of a forest of cut branches for ambulatory Birnam Wood is regrettable. The sensuality at the core of the Macbeth marriage is clear enough from their duets and complete trust in each other; it isn’t necessary to have every encounter conclude rolling into bed. The Sleepwalking has been cued by Verdi’s highly original choice to have the Lady’s snatches of dream uttered while the orchestra plays – but no one ever sings – the melody; this is undercut when the two witnesses’ interjections of horror come from seated psychiatrists observing the patient from a therapeutic distance.

Noble’s production achieved most when it tried least hard. The gloomy forest semicircling the stage area gave an appropriate mood to the tale, and the sequoia-sized columns that move about to become Duncan’s trapping bedchamber or an imperial banquet hall (with the splendid addition of grotesque chandeliers and grotesque choreography) are highly effective uses of the Met’s enormous stage. The blazing light show (probably only visible from downstairs) that accompanies the apparitions is a thrill, as are the mouthing faces in glass bubble monitors.

And the singing, you ask? Well, after October’s underpowered Lucias (both casts), it was a great pleasure to hear five (yes, five) Met-sized voices easily filling the cavernous theater. Maria Guleghina sang a sumptuous “Vieni t’affretta,” filling one with anticipation for her Norma, but followed it with a cabaletta that was sloppily all over the place to fill one with alarm at the thought of her as Norma. The coloratura of the drinking song also lurched, but for this scene it’s appropriate; she acted the woman who loves being the life of her parties – and seemed humiliated when the her husband’s hysteria ruined her moment. The murky suspense of “Le luce langue,” sung on her back on a couch as she idly daydreams of power, curdled the blood, but the Sleepwalking Scene was a distraction, delivered full voice as she histrionically clambered over chairs and played with a rocking ceiling light – perhaps she can deliver this climactic scene introspectively, with some exposure of character, but as staged, it went for very little.

Macbeth_Act_IV_scene_9581.pngA scene from Act IV of Verdi's "Macbeth."

To Guleghina’s weird, wet and wild bra-popping Lady, Željko Lučić’s Macbeth made a contrast and a complement, brooding where she was flamboyant. This is appropriate: action is taken by Macbeth, but only after long consideration (and wifely exhortation), the great soliloquies state the point of the play, of Shakespeare’s essay on the self-destructions of ambition. Stout and weary in formal clothes already drenched in the sweat of ghostly visitations at his big party, he sits disconsolate, exhausted, an impersonation of has-it-all-been-worth-it? success. Lučić has a voice of true Verdian warmth and heft, though a few sustained notes troubled him. The beauty of his singing underscored the tragedy here: Macbeth is not intrinsically evil; he’s an ambitious man who knows he is doing wrong but cannot stop himself. Lučić should prove an elegant interpreter of many another of Verdi’s introspective baritones.

John Relyea, a bit young and sexy for a role that sounds and usually looks patriarchal, sang an impressive Banquo. (He makes a sexy ghost, too.) Dimitri Pittas, a New Yorker who’s been coming up through the Met ranks, sang Macduff with a brash but interesting sound, a clarion Verdi tenor with a youthful ping. Macduff, with his one aria and one-fourth of a finale, is a popular spot for a not-yet-star-Verdi tenor to make a first impression, and Pittas made it. Richard Thomas was impressive in Malcolm’s few lines: another bright, focused tenor.

Relyea_and_Lucic_in_Macbeth.pngJohn Relyea as the ghost of Banquo and Zeljko Lucic in the title role of Verdi’s “Macbeth.”

James Levine is said to have campaigned for the new production of this opera: the charm for anyone with an appreciation for Verdi’s mastery, his originality, in this breakthrough score was clear in his guidance of its many shivery effects. My only objection was the battle fugue and the “bardic” finale, which did not sweep the theater with an arc of relief as, after three hours of horror, they should.

Despite its imperfections, this was a production that (unlike the Lucia) inspired me to wish to see it again. That will be possible in May with very different singers, among them Gruber’s Lady, Alvarez’s Macbeth, Pape’s Banquo and Calleja’s Macduff – and I wouldn’t miss it.

John Yohalem

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):