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

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.

Béatrice and Bénédict at Glyndebourne

‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

Pelleas et Mélisande in Aix

Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.

Siegfried, Opera North

This, alas, was where I had to sign off. A weekend conference on Parsifal (including, on the Saturday, a showing of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Parsifal film) mean that I missed Götterdämmerung, skipping straight to the sequel.

Götterdämmerung, Opera North

The culmination of Opera North’s “Ring for Everyone”, this Götterdämmerung showed the power of the condensed movement so necessary in a staged performance - each gesture of each character was perfectly judged - as well as the visceral power of having Wagner’s huge orchestra on stage as opposed to the pit.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Melba Ramos as Lady Macbeth and Olafur Sigurdarson as Macbeth with Opernchor des SST [Photo by Thomas M. Jauk]
19 May 2014

Verdi’s Macbeth of the Living Dead

If it is supposed to bring bad luck to even whisper the name of the “Scottish Play” out loud, someone must have screamed Macbeth deafeningly before the performance at Saarbrücken’s State Opera House.

Verdi’s Macbeth of the Living Dead

A review by James Sohre

Above: Melba Ramos as Lady Macbeth and Olafur Sigurdarson as Macbeth with Opernchor des SST [Photo by Thomas M. Jauk]

 

As such luck would have it, director Sebastian Welker set the whole piece alternately in a cemetery and a Mafia-infested Long Island funeral home. Mr. Welker has lots of different ideas about Macbeth. I would have settled for one. During the prelude, Malcolm as a boy, toy-sword fights with Fleance on a raked square of lawn. An open grave is far upstage, awaiting the coffin that is down center. Boys being boys, curiosity prompts them to open the coffin. (Did I mention that Malcolm is clothed in pure white with a full American Indian headdress of feathers?) Three catatonic young girls in white dresses and hair bows (refugees from “The Shining”) are the spookily mute witches, with the chorus women providing the vocals from the pit.

There is nothing wrong with the quality of Friedrich Eggert’s set designs, which are professionally executed. If you like funeral parlors, Mr. Eggert’s elaborate setting that impressively flies in with green walls, white molding, and chrome/white modern furniture embraces the highest professional standards. The many uses and change-outs of the recessed upstage bier-platform area are fluidly handled. No one is credited with the haunting lighting design, but it is restless and moody, and helps to focus the action and ground the emotional content of any given scene.

The internment of the recently departed Thane’s coffin in the first scene is the last realistic occurrence of a production that begins an inexorable (and often entertaining) descent into a macabre phantasmagoria. There are some truly chilling effects, witness the creepy appearance of the silhouettes of the three ‘witches’ behind the opaque glass in the closed doors of the upstage viewing room. There are some almost workable moments, like having the banquet stand-in as a wake, which are then reduced to silliness as the cater waiters become Banco’s assassins and Fleance cowers behind a buffet table.

macbeth_gp_110.gifOlafur Sigurdarson, Melba Ramos, Fjölnir Ólafsson and János Ocsovai

Some ideas are plain goofy, like having Duncan’s coffin brought in ceremoniously, but then having the pall bearers dump it with a laugh-provoking thud just as UN-ceremoniously. The party scene is complete with silver tinsel decorations, and a practical champagne class tower. The King is dead, long live the . . .Konzept.

At times the director is inconsistent with his own decisions. Having established the witches as mute girls, suddenly all the ladies chorus comes on (as Verdi intended) in Act III, all of them dressed in white dresses and bows and brandishing stuffed animals like talismans. A teddy bear is forced on Macbeth. (“Go on, take the teddy bear, take it. Take. The. Flippin’. Bear!”) He is helpless to resist. He takes it. (Oh, the horror!) A bit later, Macduff takes up the poor little Gundt, and tears the living stuffing out of it as he sings his aria, leaving little white bear balls all over the stage. BTW, Macbeth and the Missus stayed on the stage until the end (hope they pee’d at intermission), witnessing the tenor aria, dying by turns in, and next to the Le Courbusier, then being led by the girls in white to their own matching coffins upstage. (Whoever has the coffin concession in town must have had an uptick in business.) But I digress: meanwhile back with the refugees, the chorus is convened in the pit (second in ‘miserable surroundings’ to homelessness, I suppose). While Chorus Master Jaume Miranda’s fine ensemble sings some of the opera’s most affecting pages, the three witch girls make plenty of noise on stage playing skip rope, playing tag, until one by one, they vomit up blood and die. Talk about being upstaged. . .

Have I mentioned the costumes? My God, what a riot of styles and imagination designer Doey Lüthi hath wrought. For all of their excesses, they were colorful, thought-provoking, well-tailored, and individually apt for the characters. I am not sure they always functioned well as a unit, but there was much to admire. That said, there was one serious misfire with Lady Macbeth’s bold neon magenta gown. It sparkled, it blinded, it commanded the stage, and it hugged the figure. I mean, it huuuuugged. The flared tulle floor length ruffle skirt that gathered at the knees, made an attractive, short soprano seem shorter, in spite of the huge wig upswept to Greenland with its over-the-top tiara.

macbeth_gp_212.gifHiroshi Matsui as Banco

When the Lady in Waiting and Doctor help her out of this puzzlingly garish creation for the Sleepwalking scene, and the Lady stands momentarily in a flattering black satin slip, it was a visual relief. She is a good-looking Lady! And then they proceeded to dress her in a sparkly black number that made you suspect she was about to launch into “My Man.” She dies in the (non-electric) chair, perhaps of fashion mischief.

In an odd sequence when the audience is curiously flooded with white light, Macbeth sings Pietà, rispetto, amore directly to his wife, then acts surprised when it is announced she is dead. Hmmmm. Maybe he thought she fell asleep in front of the television as usual? Having fatally hugged the tenor a ‘little’ too enthusiastically the ol’ Macduffer will have no more of it and stabs the baritone who staggers to joins his wife.

Then, in a “Ding-Dong-the-Witch-Is Dead” sort of revelry, Malcolm enters inexplicably carrying ‘himself as a boy’ on his shoulders, the crowd totes cartoonish pig head helium balloons (no kidding), and the bowed and buttoned chorus strews glitter confetti worthy of a Mummers Day parade.

Olafur Sigurdarson gave an assured reading in the title role. His substantial baritone had bite and plenty of volume. Perhaps too much. While his delivery would be terrific for Hagen and the like, Mr. Sigurdarson lacks true Italianate fluidity, and his relentless forcefulness caused him to tire a bit by opera’s end. I liked everything about Melba Ramos spunky Lady Macbeth, except perhaps that her truly lovely voice is a smidgen too small (and arguably, too darned pretty) for the anti-heroine. Still, Ms. Ramos favored us with sparkling high notes, clean coloratura, and a characterization informed by a superb musical intelligence. La luce langue could have benefitted from a bit more body in the sound, and Vieni! t'affretta! (secure, if not seething) was not helped by having Macbeth stand right next to her and recite the text of his letter, robbing her of her entrance ‘moment.’ She was at her considerable best in the ruminations of the Sleepwalking Scene, capped with an exceptional, secure high D.

macbeth_gp_687.gifFjölnir Ólafsson and Herdís Anna Jónasdóttir

As Banco, Hiroshi Matsui boasted a particularly rich, sonorous bass that made for a solid musical presence. His resonant Come dal ciel precipita was a high point of the evening. Jevgenij Taruntsov brought a tightly pointed delivery to his Macduff, but sang much of the time at ‘forte’ and beyond. Mr. Taruntsov has a secure instrument that might benefit from some volume control allowing the voice move to more fluidly.

As Malcolm, János Ocsovai’s pleasant lighter tenor and his stylistically secure performance made me wish the role were larger. Young bass Fjölnir Ólafsson showed great promise with his well-schooled delivery that enhanced several small solo roles, including the Doctor.

The orchestra played idiomatically for Maestro Marzio Conti, once past an unfocussed and slack prelude. While a bit slow to warm up, once they hit their stride midway in Act I, the musical elements went from strength to strength, the final chorus ripping along with conviction and fire. Moreover, Maestro Conti partnered his soloists with a unified dramatic intent.

Whatever its excesses, this Macbeth was never boring, never less than competent, and was one of “those” productions I will not soon forget. Truth in advertising: the local, loyal audience was wildly appreciative of the night’s effort and called the cast back well past the planned number of bows.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Duncan: Gaetano Franzese; Macbeth: Olafur Sigurdarson; Banco: Hiroshi Matsui; Lady Macbeth: Melba Ramos; Lady in Waiting: Herdís Anna Jónasdóttir; Macduff: Jevgenij Taruntsov; Malcolm: János Ocsovai; Servant/Murderer/Messenger/First Apparition/Doctor: Fjölnir Ólafsson; Fleance/Second Apparition: Dimitrij Pyrozhkov; Boy Malcom/Third Apparition: Gustav Jänicke; Witches: Marlene Järkel, Feliciana Solander, Mira Yazici; Conductor: Marzio Conti; Director: Sebastian Welker; Set Design: Friedrich Eggert; Costume Design: Doey Lüthi; Chorus Master: Jaume Miranda.

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):