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

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

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.

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):