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

Edward Gardner conducts Berlioz's L’Enfance du Christ

L’Enfance du Christ is not an Advent work, but since most of this country’s musical institutions shut down over Christmas, Advent is probably the only chance we shall have to hear it - and even then, only on occasion. But then Messiah is a Lenten work, and yet …

Fantasia on Christmas Carols: Sonoro at Kings Place

The initial appeal of this festive programme by the chamber choir, Sonoro, was the array of unfamiliar names nestled alongside titles of familiar favourites from the carol repertoire.

Dickens in Deptford: Thea Musgrave's A Christmas Carol

Both Venus and the hearth-fire were blazing at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance during this staging of Thea Musgrave’s 1979 opera, A Christmas Carol, an adaptation by the composer of Charles Dickens’ novel of greed, love and redemption.

There is no rose: Gesualdo Six at St John's Smith Square

This concert of Christmas music at St John’s Smith Square confirmed that not only are the Gesualdo Six and their director Owain Park fine and thoughtful musicians, but that they can skilfully shape a musical narrative.

Temple Winter Festival: The Tallis Scholars

Hodie Christus natus est. Today, Christ is born! A miracle: and one which has inspired many a composer to produce their own musical ‘miracle’: choral exultation which seems, like Christ himself, to be a gift to mankind, straight from the divine.

A new Hänsel und Gretel at the Royal Opera House

Fairy-tales work on multiple levels, they tell delightful yet moral stories, but they also enable us to examine deeper issues. With its approachably singable melodies, Engelbert Humperdinck's Märchenoper Hänsel und Gretel functions in a similar way; you can take away the simple delight of the score, but Humperdinck's discreetly Wagnerian treatment of his musical material allows for a variety of more complex interpretations.

Rouvali and the Philharmonia in Richard Strauss

It so rarely happens that the final concert you are due to review of any year ends up being one of the finest of all. Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s all Richard Strauss programme with the Philharmonia Orchestra, however, was often quite remarkable - one might quibble that parts of it were somewhat controversial, and that he even lived a little dangerously, but the impact was never less than imaginative and vivid. This was a distinctly young man’s view of Strauss - and all the better for that.

‘The Swingling Sixties’: Stravinsky and Berio

Were there any justice in this fallen world, serial Stravinsky – not to mention Webern – would be played on every street corner, or at least in every concert hall. Come the revolution, perhaps.

The Pity of War: Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall

During the past four years, there have been many musical and artistic centenary commemorations of the terrible human tragedies, inhumanities and utter madness of the First World War, but there can have been few that have evoked the turbulence and trauma of war - both past and present, in the abstract and in the particular - with such terrifying emotional intensity as this recital by Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall.

First revival of Barrie Kosky's Carmen at the ROH

Charles Gounod famously said that if you took the Spanish airs out of Carmen “there remains nothing to Bizet’s credit but the sauce that masks the fish”.

Stanford's The Travelling Companion: a compelling production by New Sussex Opera

The first performance of Charles Villiers Stanford’s ninth and final opera The Travelling Companion was given by an enthusiastic troupe of Liverpudlian amateurs at the David Lewis Theatre - Liverpool’s ‘Old Vic’ - in April 1925, nine years after it was completed, eight after it won a Carnegie Award, and one year after the composer’s death.

Russian romances at Wigmore Hall

The songs of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov lie at the heart of the Romantic Russian art song repertoire, but in this duo recital at Wigmore Hall it was the songs of Nikolay Medtner - three of which were framed by sequences by the great Russian masters - which proved most compelling and intriguing.

Don Giovanni: Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera turned the art of seduction into bloodsport with its 2018/19 season-opener of Mozart’s dramma giocoso, Don Giovanni often walking a razor’s edge between hilarious social commentary and chilling battles for the soul.

Jonathan Miller's La bohème returns to the Coliseum

And still they come. No year goes by without multiple opportunities to see it; few years now go by without my taking at least one of those opportunities. Indeed, I see that I shall now have gone to Jonathan Miller’s staging on three of its five (!) outings since it was first seen at ENO in 2009.

Sir Thomas Allen directs Figaro at the Royal College of Music

The capital’s music conservatoires frequently present not only some of the best opera in London, but also some of the most interesting, and unusual, as the postgraduate students begin to build their careers by venturing across diverse operatic ground.

Old Bones: Iestyn Davies and members of the Aurora Orchestra 'unwrap' Time at Kings Place

In this contribution to Kings Place’s 2018 Time Unwrapped series, ‘co-curators’ composer Nico Muhly and countertenor Iestyn Davies explored the relationship between time past and time present, and between stillness and motion.

Cinderella goes to the panto: WNO in Southampton

Once upon a time, Rossini’s La Cenerentola was the Cinderella among his operatic oeuvre.

It's a Wonderful Life in San Francisco

It was 1946 when George Bailey of Bedford Falls, NY nearly sold himself to the devil for $20,000. It is 2018 in San Francisco where an annual income of ten times that amount raises you slightly above poverty level, and you’ve paid $310 for your orchestra seat to Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Des Moines: Glory, Glory Hallelujah

A minor miracle occurred as Des Moines Metro Opera converted a large hall on a Reserve Army Base to a wholly successful theatrical venue, and delivered a stunning rendition of Tom Cipullo’s compelling military-themed one act opera, Glory Denied.

In her beginning is her end: Welsh National Opera's La traviata in Southampton

David McVicar’s La traviata for Welsh National Opera - first seen at Scottish Opera in 2008 and adopted by WNO in 2009 - wears its heavy-black mourning garb stylishly.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth and Željko Lučić in the title role of Verdi's Macbeth [Photo by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera]
18 Oct 2014

Anna Netrebko, now a dramatic soprano, shines in the Met’s dark and murky ‘Macbeth’

The former lyric soprano holds up well — and survives the intrusive close-up camerawork of the ‘Live in HD’ transmission

Anna Netrebko, now a dramatic soprano, shines in the Met’s dark and murky ‘Macbeth’

A review by David Abrams

Above: Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth and Željko Lučić in the title role of Verdi's Macbeth [Photo by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera]

 

Ever since the September 24 opening of the Met’s current production of Verdi’s Macbeth, critics have been pretty much unanimous in their acclaim for Anna Netrebko’s portrayal of the iconic Lady Macbeth. The praise is well deserved, all the more so considering the transformation of vocal timbre she had to undergo to prepare for this role. By the time of Saturday’s Live in HD simulcast, about the only question remaining was how the Russian superstar would withstand the intense scrutiny of the close-up camerawork.

Netrebko, once a lyric soprano embracing bel canto roles, has slowly been shedding her past and adding weight both to body and voice. And while the change has been gradual, it’s clear from this production that the diva has now reinvented herself as a dramatic soprano. Judging from the quality of singing and level of stamina Saturday, I’d say this new voice is here to stay.

“Behind every great man there stands a great woman,” the saying goes, and those familiar with this Shakespeare tragedy are not likely to argue the point. But Netrebko’s Lady Macbeth stands much the taller throughout this reprise of Adrian Noble’s (still-potent) 2007 production — hovering over the hapless Macbeth (Željko Lučić) a good deal of the time, as he cowers at her feet like a trained dog awaiting the next command.

In the end, however, it’s Netrebko’s ferocious display of vocal power, and not the warped power relationship, that tells the story in this Macbeth.

Whatever your opinion as to the relative merits of Peter Gelb’s simulcasts (my circle of friends are pretty much evenly divided), most will agree that viewers of the broadcasts get to see certain aspects of the production not readily available to audiences at the opera house.

Case in point: In Saturday ‘s simulcast, Live in HD Director Gary Halvorson projected close-ups of Netrebko’s eyes, affording viewers a window into her soul. (I saw a fanatical lust for power.) Halvorson projected close-ups of her facial expressions and seductive body movements, offering a revealing view of the femme fatale spinning a deadly web from which there will be no escape. Mostly, though, Halvorson projected close-ups of Netrebko’s cleavage — shot from every possible angle and broadcast across some 2,000 theater screens around the globe. Viewers from 67 countries now know what it means to be in top form in America. (No word yet on whether Gelb plans to simulcastAnna Nicole.)

Though largely gratuitous, this alternate view of Netrebko didn’t bother me as much as the cropping of the chorus scenes, which rendered it difficult to get a visual sense of the large number of singers involved. It’s also maddening to be forced to look only where the camera director allows you to look. We can see the singers in glorious detail, but are not privy to the looks and reactions of characters whom the singers are addressing. It’s as if we’re sitting in the front row of the opera house strapped in a neck brace.

In the title role, Željko Lučić forges a daring but complex character who wildly chases his ambitions but ultimately succumbs to his fears. The uxorious husband follows his wife’s bidding without question, yet appears incapable of enjoying the sexual favors she offers as bait to lure him into action. When he does reach the top, Macbeth can experience neither physical pleasure nor emotional satisfaction afforded by this absolute power. Lučić’s “mad” scene at the banquet, where he begins to mentally unravel in front of his obsequious guests, was a dramatic tour de force.

Though an excellent actor, Lučić fell far short of the other principal singers. His phrases were generally choppy, and his voice, which in all but the loudest sections came across as hoarse, sounded raspy and unfocused. By his final aria, Pietà, rispetto, amore, Lučić sounded clearly fatigued, and pitch began to wobble.

It’s always a pleasure to see and hear the incomparable bass René Pape (Banquo), even if his character does get killed off early in the second act. (Pape returns, in a bloody white shirt, as a ghost — but alas, no more singing.)

Banquo, who along with Macbeth served as King Duncan’s generals before the latter murdered the monarch, enters the forest with his young son and quickly realizes that the band of thugs in the forest (led by Richard Bernstein) have other plans for the pair. Pape delivers his great aria Come dal ciel precipita in a commanding bass, and with deep feeling.

Those looking for a tenor aria in this opera had to wait until the fourth act for Macduff to step into the spotlight. But Joseph Calleja’s poignant Ah, la paterna mano was well worth the wait. Lamenting the loss of his character’s wife and children at the hands of Macbeth, Calleja’s moving delivery — sung with a combination of tenderness and agony — captured the moment.

Of course, the lion’s share of vocal accolades belong to Netrebko. She was strong in voice from her opening cavatina (Vieni t’affretta ) and the concluding cabaletta (Or tutti, sorgete), with a firm upper register that never wavered in pitch or intensity. She navigated the wide intervals in the cheerful Brindisi (drinking song) Si colmi il calice di vino with seemingly little effort, toasting her guests gleefully while savoring the murder of Banquo only moments earlier.

Netrebko’s facial expression in the opera’s signature sleepwalking scene, where Lady Macbeth tries in vain to wash the imaginary blood off her hands, told the story better perhaps than Francesco Maria Piave’s libretto.

Set director Mark Thompson captured the dark and murky underpinnings of the drama through barren staging that provided only hints of the interior of the castle.

The forest scene in Act Four, populated with soldiers and refugees, was far more tangible, including a frozen military jeep with frosted windows and a machine gun mounted on the seat. The falling snowflakes made me reach for my coat. Thompson, also the costume director, outfitted the witches in disheveled 1940s-vintage garb that gave them the appearance of “bag ladies.” Concealed in the women’s handbags were flashlights used in clever fashion to illuminate their faces against the dark backdrop of the stage.

It’s growing increasingly difficult to take shortcuts with the props during simulcasts. Snowflakes falling in the cold and depressing forest had four sides, not six — as was abundantly clear during the close-ups of Calleja, who sang his touching aria sporting three rogue flakes stuck to his hair, each in the shape of a square.

From the foreboding opening Preludio, led by a marvelous brass section punctuated by trombones and bass trombone, the Met Orchestra under Fabio Luisi captured all the right moods at all the right places. Luisi’s invigorating Allegro Brilliante at the close of Act 1 Scene 1 was a real foot-tapper, though taken considerably faster than Verdi’s indicated tempo of half-note = 144 (my metronome clocked the maestro at an astounding 164, which all but set off the smoke detectors in my theater).

Don Palumbo’s men’s and women’s choruses were in good form throughout the production, particularly the chorus of witches. The patriotic Patria Oppressa, where the oppressed masses are lamenting the loss of their homeland, was especially lovely — though the hushed pianissimos appeared amplified out of proportion in the simulcast.

The jury may still be out as to where best to experience the Metropolitan Opera. But for the company’s unforgettable production of Macbeth, at least, there wasn’t a bad seat in the house anywhere in the world.

David Abrams
CNY Café Momus

This review first appeared at CNY Café Momus. It is reprinted with the permission of the author.

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):