Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

The Maryland Opera Studio Defies Genre with Fascinating Double-Bill

This past weekend, the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS) presented a double-billed performance of two of Kurt Weill’s less familiar staged works: Zaubernacht (1922) and Mahagonny-Songspiel (1927).

Nash Ensemble at Wigmore Hall: Focus on Sir Harrison Birtwistle

The Nash Ensemble’s annual contemporary music showcase focused on the work of Sir Harrison Birtwistle, a composer with whom the group has enjoyed a long and close association. Three of the six works by Birtwistle performed here were commissioned by the Nash Ensemble, as was Elliott Carter’s Mosaic which, alongside Oliver Knussen’s Study for ‘Metamorphosis’ for solo bassoon, completed a programme was intimate and intricate, somehow both elusive in spirit and richly communicative.

McVicar's Faust returns to the ROH

To lose one Marguerite may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. But, with the ROH Gounod’s Faust seemingly heading for ruin, salvation came in the form of an eleventh-hour arrival of a redeeming ‘angel’.

A superb Semele from the English Concert at the Barbican Hall

It’s good to aim high … but be careful what you wish for. Clichéd idioms perhaps, but also wise words which Semele would have been wise to heed.

A performance of Vivaldi's La Senna festeggiante by Arcangelo

In 1726 on 25 August, Jacques-Vincent Languet, Comte de Gergy, the new French ambassador to the Venetian Republic held a celebration for the name day of King Louis XV of France. There was a new piece of music performed in the loggia at the foot of Languet's garden with an audience of diplomats and, watching from gondolas, Venetian nobles.

Matthew Rose and Tom Poster at Wigmore Hall

An interesting and thoughtfully-composed programme this, presented at Wigmore Hall by bass Matthew Rose and pianist Tom Poster, and one in which music for solo piano ensured that the diverse programme cohered.

Ekaterina Semenchuk sings Glinka and Tchaikovsky

To the Wigmore Hall for an evening of magnificently old-school vocal performance from Ekaterina Semenchuk. It was very much her evening, rather than that of her pianist, Semyon Skigin, though he had his moments, especially earlier on.

Hubert Parry's Judith at the Royal Festival Hall

Caravaggio’s depiction (1598-99) of the climactic moment when the young, beautiful, physically weak Judith seizes the head of Holofernes by the enemy general’s hair and, flinching with distaste, cleaves the neck of the occupying Assyrian with his own sword, evokes Holofernes’ terror with visceral precision - eyes and screaming mouth are wide open - and is shockingly theatrical, the starkly lit figures embraced by blackness.

La Pietà in Rome

Say "La Pietà" and you think immediately of Michelangelo’s Rome Pietà. Just now Roman Oscar-winning film composer Nicola Piovani has asked us to contemplate two additional Pietà’s in Rome, a mother whose son is dead by overdose, and a mother whose son starved to death.

Orfeo ed Euridice in Rome

No wrecked motorcycle (director Harry Kupfer’s 1987 Berlin Orfeo), no wrecked Citroen and black hearse (David Alagna’s 2008 Montpellier Orfée [yes! tenorissimo Roberto Alagna was the Orfée]), no famed ballet company (the Joffrey Ballet) starring in L.A. Opera’s 2018 Orpheus and Eurydice).

Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel - a world premiere at English National Opera

Jack the Ripper is as luridly fascinating today as he was over a century ago, so it was no doubt sensationalist of the marketing department of English National Opera to put the Victorian serial killer’s name first and the true subject of Iain Bell’s new opera - his victims, the women of Whitechapel - as something of an after-thought. Font size matters, especially if it’s to sell tickets.

Tosca at the Met


The 1917 Met Tosca production hung around for 50 years, bested by the 1925 San Francisco Opera production that lived to the ripe old age of 92.  The current Met production is just 2 years old but has the feel of something that can live forever.

Drama Queens and Divas at the ROH: Handel's Berenice

A war ‘between love and politics’: so librettist Antonio Salvi summarised the conflict at the heart of Handel’s 1737 opera, Berenice. Well, we’ve had a surfeit of warring politics of late, but there’s been little love lost between opposing factions, and the laughs that director Adele Thomas and her team supply in this satirical and spicy production at the ROH’s stunningly re-designed Linbury Theatre have been in severely short supply.

Mozart’s Mass in C minor at the Royal Festival Hall

A strange concert, this, in that, although chorally conceived, it proved strongest in the performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto: not so much a comment on the choral singing as on the conducting of Dan Ludford-Thomas.

Samson et Dalila at the Met


It was the final performance of the premiere season of Darko Tresnjak’s production of Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila. Four tenors later. 

The Enchantresse and Dido and Aeneas
in Lyon

Dido and Aeneas, Il ritorno d’Ulisse and Tchaikowsky’s L’Enchantresse, the three operas of the Opéra de Lyon’s annual late March festival all tease destiny. But far more striking than the thematic relationship that motivates this 2019 festival is the derivation of these three productions from the world of hyper-refined theater, far flung hyper-refined theater.

The devil shares the good tunes: Chelsea Opera Group's Mefistofele

Every man ‘who burns with a thirst for knowledge and life and with curiosity about the nature of good and evil is Faust ... [everyone] who aspires to the Unknown, to the Ideal, is Faust’.

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

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):