Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera

At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.

Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.

Double bill at Guildhall

Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

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):