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

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

The Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its latest production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) featuring Renée Fleming /Nicole Cabell as the widow Hanna Glawari and Thomas Hampson as Count Danilo Danilovich.

Kindred Spirits: Cecilia Bartoli and Rolando Villazón at the Concertgebouw

Mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli has been a regular favourite at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam since 1996. Her verastile concerts are always carefully constructed and delivered with irrepressible energy and artistic commitment.

Cav/Pag at Royal Opera

When Italian director Damiano Michieletto visited Covent Garden in June this year, he spiced Rossini’s Guillaume Tell with a graphic and, many felt, gratuitous rape scene that caused outrage and protest.

Verdi Giovanna d'Arco, Teatro alla Scala, Milan

Verdi Giovanna d'Arco at Teatro alla Scala, Milan, starting the new season. Primas at La Scala are a state occasion, attended by the President of Italy and other dignitaries.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Thomas Hampson as Macbeth and Nadja Michael as Lady Macbeth [Photo by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]
13 Oct 2010

Verdi’s Macbeth in a New Production at Lyric Opera of Chicago

A successful production of Verdi’s Macbeth relies not only on incisive vocal characterization as projected by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth but also on the interaction of these lead figures in order to vivify their descent into a world of destruction.

Giuseppe Verdi: Macbeth

Macbeth: Thomas Hampson; Lady Macbeth: Nadja Michael; Macduff: Leonardo Capalbo; Banquo: Štefan Kocán; Lady in Waiting: Carter Scott; Malcolm: Konstantin Stepanov; Servant/Assassin/Herald/Doctor: Sam Handley; First Apparition: Evan Boyer; Second Apparition: Jennifer Jakob; Third Apparition: Amanda Majeski. Conductor: Renato Palumbo. Director: Barbara Gaines. Set Designer: James Noone. Costume Designer: Virgil C. Johnson. Lighting Designer: Robert Wierzel. Chorus Master: Donald Nally. Choreographer: Harrison McEldowney.

Above: Thomas Hampson as Macbeth and Nadja Michael as Lady Macbeth

All photos by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

On these two counts Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new conception of Macbeth scores a significant triumph. Under the stage direction of Barbara Gaines, founder and artistic director of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, this new production is conceived as alternately expansive and restricting, thus highlighting the ambitions and emotional as well as political collapse of the royal couple’s murderous plans. In the title role Thomas Hampson gives a multi-faceted depiction of this complex character, his acting and singing coalescing into a strong and individual interpretation. All other leading roles in this production are very well cast by international artists making their debuts this season at Lyric Opera: Nadja Michael as Lady Macbeth, Štefan Kocán as Banquo, Leonardo Capalbo as Macduff, Konstantin Stepanov as Malcolm, and Carter Scott as both Lady Banquo and the Lady in Waiting. The Lyric Opera Orchestra is led by Renato Palumbo and Donald Nally directs the generous contributions of the Lyric Opera Chorus.

Macbeth_Chicago_2010_01.gifThomas Hampson as Macbeth

Before the overture begins the stage is sheathed by a cover approximating armor, at the base of which is depicted a stylized forest with soldiers. The brief overture under Palumbo’s direction showed sensitive attention to tempo and orchestral colors with brief pauses and transitions well integrated into the whole. At its close the stage covering opens at center to reveal the simulated shooting flames of golden fire surrounded by a large chorus of hags. Suspended above them and careening through the air are three witches who join with the other groups below to recount their supernatural activities. At the sound of drums Macbeth and Banco enter and demand that the witches identify themselves. In answer they hail Macbeth, in succession, “di Caudor sire” and “di Scozia re.” As Macbeth, Mr. Hampson declaimed from the start in full voice while demanding a greeting from the witches. In the role of his fellow general Banco Mr. Kocán layered his resonant voice with dramatic effect, his diction showing an equally incisive understanding of Verdi’s textual import. In their duet as a response to the first of the witches’ predictions being realized both singers followed an effective vocal line yet each differentiated the same in technical delivery. Hampson moved impressively from piano to full dramatic voice, while Kocán used a striking bel canto approach within a seamless and well projected vocal range. As the pair departs and the chorus of witches predicts Macbeth’s return [“Fuggiam, fuggiam!” (“Hasten away, hasten!”)], the sets retract to show Lady Macbeth simultaneously in their castle already reading Macbeth’s letter. This fluid transition connects the two scenes directly, so that the Lady’s reaction gains immediacy upon Macbeth’s revelation. In her pronouncements after a chilling recitation of the letter Nadja Michael reveals a dramatically forceful delivery in which she urges Macbeth to take courage and seize the opportunity of the moment. Ms. Michael’s approach to this and subsequent scenes relies on several points of vocal focus which she alternates with expressive transitions in order to communicate a range of emotions. Her invocation of the spirits of the underworld [“Ministri infernali”] to lend their evil support is performed as several voices blending into one with softer downward runs suggesting her own spiritual descent. During the aria Ms. Michael placed lit candles about the room in a circle suggesting a further hope to ally herself with demonic forces. Once Macbeth arrives with Duncan as guest, the couple comes to agreement on the King’s fate in a mere several lines. In his delivery of Macbeth’s soliloquy before the King’s chamber Hampson’s excited emotions ascend to a crescendo as he intones the self-convincing speech, his voice rising through the words “assassino” (“murderer”) and culminating with dramatic top notes on “Immobil terra!” (“Firm-set earth”). Once the deed is declared done [“Tutto è finito”] Macbeth and the Lady participate in a nervous exchange during which she takes a dominant role. Here the voices of Hampson and Michael blended and alternately moved apart to suggest their complex roles of dependency and revulsion. In the final scene of this act Macduff and Banco enter to rouse the King and prepare him to journey further. It is Macduff who discovers the murdered King and decries the vile deed [“Orrore, orrore”]. Mr. Capalbo in a noteworthy debut sings the role of Macduff with urgent, bright tones that command attention to his honest pleas for the King’s memory. As everyone present sings in unison to demand justice and counsel from God, Macbeth and the Lady join in condemning the deed they have themselves committed.

Macbeth_Chicago_2010_02.gifNadja Michael as Lady Macbeth

In Act II the royal couple descends to further iniquity with Lady Macbeth taking the vocal lead in expressing complicity. Macbeth reminds her of the predictions relating to Banco and the need to murder him in order to assure a clear path to the throne. Lady Macbeth agrees in her haunting aria “La luce langue” (“Light thickens”), which Michael sings with understated hushed tones, capped by powerful high notes. As the scene changes the assassins, who will kill Macbeth’s rival, position themselves on a steep wall in a wooded park and practice their forthcoming attack. Their pantomime is choreographed by the production team with dance-like movements befitting the sprightly music composed by Verdi for the start of this scene. Banco then arrives on the path with his son Fleanzio. Here the father issues multiple warnings and speaks of his concern for safety and treachery. In his major solo aria Kocán combined elegant legato phrasing in significant passages [“sospetto” (“suspicion”)] with a rich tone culminating in the convincingly delivered dramatic notes of “terror.” His son is here whisked to safety by one of the suspended flying figures, returned from Act I, as Banco succumbs to the assassins. The final scene of this act in the banquet hall is staged with frenetic, drunken movements as King Macbeth is confronted several times by the ghost of Banco. At the King’s urging the Lady sings her toast “Si colmi il calice” (“Fill up the cup”), interrupted repeatedly by Macbeth’s visions. In the faster passagework of her aria Michael tended to sing sharp, an impression in character on which she drew rather than giving steady, full voice to all dramatic moments. The scene closes with the guests dismayed by their new King’s mental abandon.

In the brief Act III Macbeth visits the witches again, the latter delivering their seemingly impossible predictions for his defeat. In the orchestral introduction Palumbo emphasized skillfully several themes from the earlier overture, hence lending a sonic unity to the individual, collective scenes. Hampson’s impressive confrontation and reaction in his vocal display made use of forte singing that suggested a continued and desperate search. After his address to the recurrent vision of Banco, Hampson modulated his voice into an even, full line of returning courage that Lady Macbeth goads into further deeds of violence. [“Ora di morte e di vendetta” (“Hour of death and of vengeance”).

As Act IV begins the staging is redolent of suffering, calling out for the pity of all who look upon this scene of the “Patria oppressa!” (“Downtrodden county!”). Macduff proceeds from one group to another at the start, as he then laments the murder of his family by Macbeth’s forces. In his moving aria, “Ah, la paterna mano” (“Alas, a father’s hand”) Capalbo shows himself as a true, Verdian lyric tenor, with effortless and polished legato, secure top notes, and a skillful placement of diminuendo. The scene remains one of several highlights in the production. He is immediately joined by Malcolm as they plan to attack the forces of Macbeth. Just as the two depart, Lady Macbeth is seen wandering onto the stage, reminiscent of the technique used for her entrance during Act I. Now she appears soiled, covered in blood, yet still holding a candle. The sleepwalking scene is a true synthesis of Michael’s character interpretation, her voice and acting joining into a specter of madness. In her delusion she attempts to rouse Macbeth, who lays covered with a rag downstage on the right. As he repulses her advances Michael sings with an effective blend of dramatic force and extended piano notes while reliving their deeds of violence. Her chilling conclusion on “il tuo pallor” (“your pallor”) makes use of this technical shift in a final display of madness, capped by a ghostly head note.

Macbeth_Chicago_2010_03.gifThomas Hampson as Macbeth and Nadja Michael as Lady Macbeth

The final scenes show Macbeth attempting to summon his courage one last time before he hears news of the Queen’s death. Paradoxically, in his final aria “Pietà, rispetto, amore” (“Compassion, honor, love”) Hampson applies an elegance of phrasing and lyrical decoration to give the image of Macbeth, on the point of defeat, still caught up in his self-delusional trust in power. When he hears that he is now alone, he rushes off to do battle against the forces of Malcolm. The final chorus of victory declares that Macduff’s blow to Macbeth has restored trust to Scotland. With this admirable, new production Lyric Opera of Chicago has likewise restored Verdi’s Macbeth to it repertoire of artistic achievements.

Salvatore Calomino

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):