Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at Munich

It was fascinating to see — and of course, to hear — Krzysztof Warlikowsi’s productions of Die Gezeichneten and Die Frau ohne Schatten on consecutive nights of this year’s Munich Opera Festival.

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):