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

Cooperstown and the Hood

Glimmerglass Festival continues its string of world premiere youth operas with a wholly enchanting production of Ben Moore and Kelly Rourke’s Robin Hood.

Glimmerglass Oklahoma: Yeow!

Director Molly Smith knew just how to best succeed at staging the evergreen classic Oklahoma! for Glimmerglass Festival.

An Invitation to Travel: Christiane Karg and Malcolm Martineau at the Proms

German soprano Christiane Karg invited us to accompany her on a journey during this lunchtime chamber music Prom at Cadogan Hall as she followed the voyages of French composers in Europe and beyond, and their return home.

Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Proms - Sir Simon Rattle

Prom 46: Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, Simon O'Neill, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Karen Cargill, Peter Hoare, Christopher Purves and Thomas Quasthoff. And three wonderful choirs - the CBSO Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus and Orfeó Català from Barcelona, with Chorus Master Simon Halsey, Rattle's close associate for 35 years.

Le Siège de Corinthe in Pesaro

That of Rossini (in French) and that of Lord Byron (in English, Russian, Italian and Spanish), the battles of both Negroponte (1470) and of Missolonghi (1826) re-enacted amidst massive piles of plastic water bottles (thousands of them) that collapsed onto the heroine at Mahomet II's destruction of Corinth.

Dunedin Consort perform Bach's St John Passion at the Proms

John Butt and the Dunedin Consort's 2012 recording of Bach's St John Passion was ground-breaking for it putting the passion into the context of a reconstruction of the original Lutheran Vespers service.

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Simon Keenlyside as Macbeth [Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of The Royal Opera]
26 May 2011

Macbeth, Royal Opera

Phyllida Lloyd’s reading of Verdi’s Macbeth – first seen in 2002 and here revived for the second time – could certainly not be described as ‘subtle’, either dramatically or visually.

Guiseppe Verdi: Macbeth

Macbeth: Simon Keenlyside; Banquo: Raymond Aceto; Lady Macbeth: Liudmyla Monastyrska; Malcolm: Steven Ebel; Macduff: Dimitri Pittas; Duncan: Ian Lindsay; Lady-in-Waiting: Elisabeth Meister; Fleance: Will Richardson; Servant to Macbeth: Nigel Cliffe; First apparition: Jonathan Fisher; Second apparition: William Payne; Third apparition: Archie Buchanan; Herald: Jonathan Coad; Doctor: Lukas Jakobski. Conductor: Antonio Pappano. Director: Phyllida Lloyd. Revival director: Harry Fehr. Designs: Anthony Ward. Lighting design: Paule Constable. Choreographer: Michael Keegan-Dolan. Revival choreographer: Kirsty Tapp. Fight director: Terry King. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Tuesday 24th May 2011.

Above: Simon Keenlyside as Macbeth

All photos by Clive Barda courtesy of The Royal Opera

 

Arresting, and at times disturbing, it may be, but the symbolism is unabashedly transparent. Red = blood; black = evil; gold = power. Thrones in gilded cages remind us that power corrupts and ambition destroys; the roadside standpipe at which Macbeth pauses to erase the blood of battle from his hands reveals man’s bleak brutality.

MACBETH.110521_0525.MONASTYRSKA AS LADY MACBETH (C) BARDA 2011.pngLiudmyla Monastyrska as Lady Macbeth

That’s not to say that Anthony Ward’s designs, all looming grey stone and shadowy skies, are ineffective; indeed the stage space powerfully suggests both the magnitude of the Macbeths’ ambitions and the increasing claustrophobia as the net closes in. We are as mesmerised as the Scottish thanes by the glamorous glitter of the royal couple’s eye-splitting gold lamé gowns. Dramatic streams of light cut through the darkness of Duninsblane Castle, threatening to expose the criminals’ handiwork, or perhaps to represent the stabs of moral conscience which beleaguer the guilty pair, a device employed most effectively during Macbeth’s “is this a dagger …?” hallucination.

So, visually the intensity never wanes. And, indeed Verdi’s reading of Shakespeare’s tragedy, in which the chorus looms so large, perhaps invites hyperbole and melodrama. Why have 3 witches when you can have 25? Similarly, while we may wonder why Shakespeare insists on the presence of a third, mute, murderer, at the assassination of Banquo, Verdi gives as a whole herd of henchmen, revelling in their butchery. Lloyd promptly takes her cues and, exploiting the significantly enlarged choral forces, makes the witches’ malicious intent the driving force of the drama, their scarlet headdresses signifying their blood-thirsty intentions. They are omnipresent: they help Fleance to evade his would-be assassins; they deliver Macbeth’s letter to his wife. If they are not steering the action, they are shifting the furniture.

Moreover, the innovative orchestral score strikingly conveys dark depths and deeds, and from the opening raspings of the bassoons and brass in the prelude, Pappano whipped up and sustained a sonic canvass to match the stage vision. He superbly controlled the musico-dramatic ebbs and flows, bring great energy to the accompaniment figurations, while elegantly highlighting the significant strands within the dense textures.

Making her role debut as Lady Macbeth, Ukrainian soprano Luidmyla Monastyrska was a commanding presence. When she made an unscheduled ROH debut as Aida in March, many commentated on the sheer size of her voice, and Lloyd’s production positively invited her to exhibit her vocal muscle to the full: I don’t think I’ve ever heard a soprano ride above a large ensemble with such force and potency – indeed, one would be concerned for her vocal health and longevity had it all not seemed so effortless. She began with an astounding confidence which suggested she’d been singing the role for a lifetime; she ascended to the stratosphere with ease and fleetly navigated the coloratura, while her lower register was burnished and sensual. Verdi’s Lady Macbeth could seem monstrous – an emblem, and agent, of the witches’ designs. For example, she is actually responsible for planting the seed of the murderous plot against Banquo in her husband’s mind, whereas Shakespeare’s queen is kept in ignorance. However, in a recent interview, Monastyrska explained that she senses Lady Macbeth’s guilt troubling her, almost immediately after the death of Duncan. And it is to Monastyrska’s credit that she is able convincingly to bring some complexity to a role which could become a one-dimensional portrait of sexual power; her Sleepwalking Scene was a sensitive exploration of motivation and psychology.

Simon Keenlyside was, by contrast, all subtlety and self-interrogation, though never lacking in focus if not quite matching his wife for decibels. Pony-tailed and sporting a goatee beard, his Macbeth is a portrait of self-doubt, the elation of victory on the battlefield and elevation at court swiftly giving way to the horror of his own moral devastation. While not always mastering the span and arch of the Verdian phrases, Keenlyside’s beautiful tone, carefully nuanced, movingly suggested the anguish of every twist and turn of Macbeth’s psychological brooding, as he swung between soulless defiance and poignant regret. Seemingly inhabiting opposing moral spheres, it is not surprising that the couple are found sleeping in separate by the rebellious Scottish refugees who burst into the bed chamber in Act 4. Perhaps greater erotic tension will grow between the pair as the run proceeds.

MACBETH.110521_0569. KEENLYSIDE AS MACBETH, PITTAS AS MACDUFF (C) BARDA 2011.pngSimon Keenlyside as Macbeth and Dimitri Pittas as Macduff

Of the rest of the cast, bass Raymond Aceto was a weighty Banquo, if occasionally uneven, while Dimitri Pittas, though firmer and more consistent of tone, was a rather wooden Macduff whose intonation tended to drift sharpwards. Both would have been assisted by some more attentive direction. Elisabeth Meister, a Jette Parker Young Artist, demonstrated an intelligent appreciation of the musical and dramatic demands of the role; she’s an intelligent singer who knows when to bring forth the finer details and when to blend with the ensemble. The huge chorus co-ordinated well with the pit, and were particularly powerful in the Act 1 concertante, driven by Pappano to a stirring climax. The witches’ strange whining tone was an unnecessary distraction, though.

Overall, there were many compelling moments during the evening, not least because of some outstanding singing from Monastyrska, but the production does not entirely convince.

Claire Seymour

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):