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

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

Walk for 10 minutes or so due north of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and you come to Brunswick Square, home to the Foundling Museum which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for children lost but lucky.

O19’s Phat Philly Phantasy

It is hard to imagine a more animated, engaging, and musically accomplished night at the Academy of Music than with Opera Philadelphia’s winning new staging of The Love for Three Oranges.

Agrippina: Barrie Kosky brings farce and frolics to the ROH

She makes a virtue of her deceit, her own accusers come to her defence, and her crime brings her reward. Agrippina - great-granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, sister of Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius - might seem to offer those present-day politicians hungry for power an object lesson in how to satisfy their ambition.

Billy Budd in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera’s Billy Budd confirms once again that Britten’s reworking of Melville’s novella is among the great masterpieces of the repertory. It boasted an exemplary cast in an exemplary production, and enlightened conducting.

Dear Marie Stopes: a thought-provoking chamber opera

“To remove the misery of slave motherhood and the curse of unwanted children, and to secure that every baby is loved before it is born.”

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Macbeth by Rafal Olbinksi
01 Feb 2015

English Pocket Opera Company: Verdi’s Macbeth

Last year we tracked Orfeo on his desperate search for his lost Euridice, through the labyrinths and studio spaces of Central St Martin’s; this year we were plunged into Macbeth’s tragic pursuit of power in the bare blackness of the CSM’s Platform Theatre.

English Pocket Opera Company: Verdi’s Macbeth

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Macbeth by Rafal Olbinksi

 

This production is English Pocket Opera Company’s eighth collaboration with undergraduates studying for the BA degree in Performance Design and Practice at CSM, and it provided an opportunity for these students to engage with many aspects of the design process and to impress us with their creative flair, and theatrical and musical awareness.

Dispensing with stage sets and relying on costume, props and lighting (a stunning design by Alex Hopkins which juxtaposed warmth and coolness most powerfully) to work their imaginative magic, the eight young designers fashioned the fairly small Platform Theatre into both the expansive bleakness of the heath and the claustrophobic chambers of Macbeth’s castle with equal persuasiveness.

There were some innovative and striking effects. Within the castle three tapered candles, suspended aloft like misshapen stalactites, formed suggestive motifs as Macbeth lunged frantically at the imagined dagger which lures him towards evil. Later their number magnified and their distortions augmented: grotesque tubers, their light-bulbs flashing erratically, they embodied the monstrous disorder of Macbeth’s own mind, one crown-shaped miscreation dominating his consciousness. The entrance of King Duncan was similarly startling and thought-provoking. Entering from the rear of the audience, bathing the previously shadowed auditorium and stage in a haze of glowing golden light, Duncan’s attendants held an out-sized, be-tasselled crown above his head. Turned on its side this glowing circle was both an emblem of ambition’s trivial pursuit of power and a symbol of inescapable fate: Duncan slept through the gleaming ring to his bedchamber, and certain death. Then, contemplating their murderous deed, Macbeth and his wife stood either side of the gilded ring which intimated the disfigured love which has driven them to their act of violence and folly.

Designer Rosemary Elliott-Dancs’ Banquet Scene was an arresting coup de theatre¸ which drew a gasp from the unsuspecting audience. Crimson-gowned ‘table-bearers’ — their culinary fare borne atop outsize Philip Treacy-style millinery — paraded and assumed their positions at the back of the stage square. When Macbeth’s ghost-strewn delusions commenced, they dropped to the floor just as a huge, red bunraku effigy reared up, its white eyes gaping, its gnarled hands grasping at the hallucinating protagonist. Equally entrancing and chilling was the appearance of the Apparitions: as each Witch stood, in turn, with the circle inscribed in the stage, lurid projections formed amid the blue glow, mouthed their mystical prophecies and dissolved to wisps of smoky light. The Kings who then process before Macbeth were graced with beautifully ornate masks, a sign to the ailing regicide of the nobility and inner beauty that he lacks.

Musical standards were high too. The star of the show was Anna Gregory’s Lady Macbeth — fittingly, given that it is she who, with the Witches, pushes Macbeth to his foul, filthy deeds Indeed, her costumes throughout intimated the unfeminine confidence of one who repeatedly questions her husband’s masculinity: the black smock, accessorised with dagger, of the opening act was ornamented with golden regalia upon her accession to the throne, but even in her decline she retained a suggestion of military mind-set — her nightgown evoking her husband’s silver chainmail. Gregory has a glossy tone, but she was not afraid to risk the occasional stridency to suggest the emotional extremes which fuel Lady Macbeth’s treacheries and lust. Her dramatic skills flourished in the Banquet Scene, and both her love for her husband and her unbridled ambition were evident in the Act 3 duet in which the pair plan the death of Fleance. Gregory demonstrated considerable vocal power and control: trills were crisply executed, pitch was well-centred through even the fiercest runs, and the tone was appealing and bright.

As her husband, baritone Keel Watson was less secure initially but soon inspired both pity and horror in equal measure. Watson is a fine actor and used his voice most expressively, switching from fear and vulnerability to brutal defiance, and judging the pace and tenor of the role skilfully. His voice can be both nimble and sturdy, and he used it with intelligence and discretion: Macbeth’s relationship with Gregory’s Lady Macbeth was progressively more persuasive and Watson’s distracted dismissal of the Doctor (Simon Wilding) and Gentlewoman (Mai Kikkawa), who bring him news of his wife’s decline, was saddening evidence of his own loss of humanity.

Wilding was strong, too, as Banquo; and his scene with Fleance (Tatiana Delaunay) was touching, a fabric chequerboard suggesting the inevitability of their fates. Tenor Paul Featherstone was impressive as Macduff — all imperiousness and indignation — and interacted well during the more conversational scenes. His Act 4 aria, in which he declares his determination to avenge the deaths of his wife children was emotionally affecting, and revealed a tenor of appealing power and which can carry emotion, although it was unfortunate that the pitch so often strayed upwards.

The three Witches — Grace Nyandoro, Rosalind O’Dowd and Grainne Gillis — were fairly successful in overcoming Verdi’s rather tame, ‘rum-te-tum’ musical evocation of their evil. Three ladders adorned the first appearance of the heath, presumably suggesting a descent into the Hadean realms and the psychological hell from which Macbeth will struggle futilely to escape. Black-masked, the Witches moved with menace; intonation took a little while to settle, but the female voices were individually characterised and blended pleasingly.

The EPOC community chorus, cloaked in shapeless, colourless gowns and hoods for much of the performance, had their moment as the ‘trees of Birnam Wood’: ultimately their natural-toned bunting foliage ‘buried’ the defeated Macbeth — the last of the production’s many economical and engaging visual gestures.

I enjoyed this performance immensely. The lighting scheme, design details, strong musical qualities and theatrical immediacy made the two hours fly by. Much of this success was undoubtedly due to Musical Director and pianist, Philip Voldman, whose sterling accompaniment was startlingly alert to the dramatic intent and mood of each scene. Voldman needed every ounce of his considerable stamina and skill to galvanise the entire cast to aspire so high. Primary school children attending the schools’ matinee performances may find that a lot is demanded of them, however, given that there is no interval. But, once again EPOC and the students of CSM have shown that opera does not need grand budgets to reach out to its audience: just passion, resourcefulness and creative discipline.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Macbeth — Keel Watson, Lady Macbeth — Anna Gregory, Banquo/Doctor — Simon Wilding, Macduff — Paul Featherstone, 1st Witch — Grace Nyandoro, 2nd Witch — Rosalind O’Dowd, 3rd Witch — Grainne Gillis, Malcolm — Alexander Wall, Lady in Waiting — Mai Kikkawa, Duncan — Will Ferguson, Fleance — Tatiana Delauney; Director — Paul Featherstone, Musical Director/Pianist — Paul Voldman, Lighting Designer — Alex Hopkins, Make Up — Helena Jopling and Georgia Hallgalley.

Designers: Emily Bestow, Rosemary Elliott-Dancs, Katrina Felice, Harriet Fowler, Rosie Gibbens, Alice Guile, Rosemary Millbank, Roísín Straver. Central St. Martin’s, London, Wednesday, 28th January 2015.

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):