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

Of Animals and Insects: a musical menagerie at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was transformed into a musical menagerie earlier this week, when bass-baritone Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and pianist Joseph Middleton took us on a pan-European lunchtime stroll through a gallery of birds and beasts, blooms and bugs.

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

San Jose’s Dutchman Treat

At my advanced age, I have now experienced ten different productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in my opera-going lifetime, but Opera San Jose’s just might be the finest.

Mortal Voices: the Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court

The relationship between music and money is long-standing, complex and inextricable. In the Baroque era it was symbiotically advantageous.

I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

What better evocation of bel canto than an opera which uses the power of song to dispel madness and to reunite the heroine with her banished fiancé? Such is the final premise of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, currently in performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Iolanthe: English National Opera

The current government’s unfathomable handling of the Brexit negotiations might tempt one to conclude that the entire Conservative Party are living in the land of the fairies. In Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 operetta Iolanthe, the arcane and Arcadia really do conflate, and Cal McCrystal’s new production for English National Opera relishes this topsy-turvy world where peris consort with peri-wigs.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Marseille

Any Laurent Pelly production is news, any role undertaken by soprano Stephanie d’Oustrac is news. Here’s the news from Marseille.

Riveting Maria de San Diego

As part of its continuing, adventurous “Detour” series, San Diego Opera mounted a deliciously moody, proudly pulsating, wholly evocative presentation of Astor Piazzolla’s “nuevo tango” opera, Maria de Buenos Aires.

La Walkyrie in Toulouse

The Nicolas Joel 1999 production of Die Walküre seen just now in Toulouse well upholds the Airbus city’s fame as Bayreuth-su-Garonne (the river that passes through this quite beautiful, rich city).

Barrie Kosky's Carmen at Covent Garden

Carmen is dead. Long live Carmen. In a sense, both Bizet’s opera and his gypsy diva have been ‘done to death’, but in this new production at the ROH (first seen at Frankfurt in 2016) Barrie Kosky attempts to find ways to breathe new life into the show and resurrect, quite literally, the eponymous temptress.

Candide at Arizona Opera

On Friday February 2, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Leonard Bernstein’s Candide to honor the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Although all the music was Bernstein’s, the text was written and re-written by numerous authors including Lillian Hellman, Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John La Touche, and Dorothy Parker, as well as the composer.

Satyagraha at English National Opera

The second of Philip Glass’s so-called 'profile' operas, Satyagraha is magnificent in ENO’s acclaimed staging, with a largely new cast and conductor bringing something very special to this seminal work.

Mahler Symphony no 8—Harding, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

From the Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, a very interesting Mahler Symphony no 8 with Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The title "Symphony of a Thousand" was dreamed up by promoters trying to sell tickets, creating the myth that quantity matters more than quality. For many listeners, Mahler 8 is still a hard nut to crack, for many reasons, and the myth is part of the problem. Mahler 8 is so original that it defies easy categories.

Wigmore Hall Schubert Birthday—Angelika Kirchschlager

At the Wigmore Hall, Schubert's birthday is always celebrated in style. This year, Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake, much loved Wigmore Hall audience favourites, did the honours, with a recital marking the climax of the two-year-long Complete Schubert Songs Series. The programme began with a birthday song, Namenstaglied, and ended with a farewell, Abschied von der Erde. Along the way, a traverse through some of Schubert's finest moments, highlighting different aspects of his song output : Schubert's life, in miniature.

Ilker Arcayürek at Wigmore Hall

The first thing that struck me in this Wigmore Hall recital was the palpable sincerity of Ilker Arcayürek’s artistry. Sincerity is not everything, of course; what we think of as such may even be carefully constructed artifice, although not, I think, here.

Lisette Oropesa sings at Tucson Desert Song Festival

On January 30, 2018, Arizona Opera and the Tucson Desert Song Festival presented a recital by lyric soprano Lisette Oropesa in the University of Arizona’s Holsclaw Hall. Looking like a high fashion model in her silver trimmed midnight-blue gown, the singer and pianist Michael Borowitz began their program with Pablo Luna’s Zarzuela aria, “De España Vengo.” (“I come from Spain”).

Schubert songs, part-songs and fragments: three young singers at the Wigmore Hall

Youth met experience for this penultimate instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s Schubert: The Complete Songs series, and the results were harmonious and happy. British soprano Harriet Burns, German tenor Ferdinand Keller and American baritone Harrison Hintzsche were supportively partnered by lieder ‘old-hand’, Graham Johnson, and we heard some well-known and less familiar songs in this warmly appreciated early-afternoon recital.

Brent Opera: Nabucco

Brent Opera’s Nabucco was a triumph in that it worked as a piece of music theatre against some odds, and was a good evening out.

LPO: Das Rheingold

It is, of course, quite an achievement in itself for a symphony orchestra to perform Das Rheingold or indeed any of the Ring dramas. It does not happen very often, not nearly so often as it should; for given Wagner’s crucial musico-historical position, this is music that should stand at the very centre of their repertoires – just as Beethoven should at the centre of opera orchestras’.

William Tell in Palermo

This was the infamous production that was booed to extinction at Covent Garden. Palermo’s Teatro Massimo now owns the production.

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):