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

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit - Ensemble Correspondances

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit with Ensemble Correspondances led by Sébastien Daucé, the glorious culmination of the finest London Festival of the Baroque in years on the theme "Treasures of the Grand Siècle". Le Concert Royal de la Nuit was Louis XIV's announcement that he would be "Roi du Soleil", a ruler whose magnificence would transform France, and the world, in a new age of splendour.

Voices of Revolution – Prokofiev, Exile and Return

Seven, they are Seven , op.30; Violin Concerto no.1 in D minor, op.19; Cantata for the Twentieth Anniverary of the October Revolution, op.74. David Butt Philip (tenor), Pekka Kuusisto (violin), Aidan Oliver (voice of Lenin, chorus director), Philharmonia Voices, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Students of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (military band), Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, Sunday 20 May 2018.

Charpentier Histoires sacrées, staged - London Baroque Festival

Marc-Antoine Charpentier Histoires sacrées with Ensemble Correspondances, conducted by Sébastien Daucé, at St John's Smith Square, part of the London Festival of the Baroque 2018. This striking staging, by Vincent Huguet, brought out its austere glory: every bit a treasure of the Grand Siècle, though this grandeur was dedicated not to Sun God but to God.

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Craig Irvin as Macbeth and Elizabeth Baldwin as Lady Macbeth [Photo by Robert Altman]
14 Dec 2016

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

A review by Alexis Rodda

Above: Craig Irvin as Macbeth and Elizabeth Baldwin as Lady Macbeth

Photos by Robert Altman

 

It was worth the wander, though, upon arriving to the venue, the MAST Chocolate Factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The space was “wow”-inducing and perfectly shabby chic, lit by the glow of the neon Brooklyn Brewery sign that indicated where one could get some craft brew to enjoy with their craft opera.

As the opera began, at least on the surface level, the venue worked well. The acoustics were a bit cathedral-like, but it allowed the singers and orchestra to envelope the audience in an eerie wash of sound. The faded brick wall used as the backdrop of the majority of the opera appropriately hinted at a crumbling castle, with large brick archways that were likely windows some time ago. Later in the opera, these arches are lit in a very fine effect that greatly enhanced the psychological drama of the scene.

Speaking of lighting, it was remarkably well done, used not only to indicate atmosphere but also to provide projections that illustrated the mental unwind of Macbeth, or served as flashbacks to emotionally fraught backstory. Projections can be tricky, as the use of this type of technology can sometimes err on disruptive rather than enriching, but these were subtle, well designed, and enhanced the mood of the scenes.

LoftOpera2.png

Perhaps I also enjoyed the lighting because it was one of the only aspects of the opera I was actually able to see fully. There’s partial-view seating, and then there’s 10-percent view seating, which is what the majority of the audience outside of the first ten rows was treated to. This unique space was difficult to work with, certainly, but the addition of a few platforms onstage would have made the difference between an evening of awe and an evening of frustration. Multiple major duets and arias occurred with the singers sitting, kneeling, or lying on the floor, the performers completely obscured to the majority of the audience.

By the end of the opera, I was barely even watching the stage because it was a fruitless exercise. The annoyance of the people around me was unmistakable, with people giving up on their seat and standing on benches to try to get a glimpse of what was happening.

Of what I could see, many of the directorial decisions were confusing and detrimental to the heart of the story. There was a montage at the beginning indicating that Lady Macbeth lost her child before the start of the play, because it’s not enough that a woman is ruthlessly ambitious because she’s ruthlessly ambitious—she needs softening by motherhood and some kind of tragic motivation for her bloodlust. Similarly, not one duet goes by where Macbeth wasn’t driven mad with lust by Lady Macbeth’s plans of vengeance (and high notes), performing an awkward from-the-back breast grab that reduces their deviousness to some kind of sexual kink that’s activated by murder plans.

LoftOpera3.png

That being said, the musicians made the evening worthwhile and handled some of the more baffling staging decisions very well. The four principles were very finely cast, each filling their role naturally with ease—not a small feat for such vocally and dramatically challenging roles as these.

Craig Irvin as Macbeth has a hugely rich and dark baritone that fills the space but moves with ease, allowing him for some stunning messa di voce moments and a real sense of vulnerability lurking beneath the murderous façade. He’s appropriately brooding but portrays determination to stay fixed to his murderous path, and neither voice nor dramatics falter through a difficult three-hour opera. Indeed, his last aria is one of his most stunning moments, a commendable feat after the demands of the singing of the first three acts.

Elizabeth Baldwin as Lady Macbeth sings a role few would dare with pizazz and effortlessness. She embodies Lady Macbeth completely, her voice sparkling through her coloratura passages and her upper range clear and easy. A lingering high note at the end of her aria in Act II caused awe and delight to ripple through the audience, yet Baldwin does all of it completely naturally. Her mad scene was haunting, the final climax echoing through the rafters with unnerving beauty.

Kevin Thompson (Banco) has excellent control over an enormous instrument, and gives an exceptional performance with appropriate gravitas. Peter Scott Drackley as MacDuff brings the performance to an awestruck standstill with his exquisitely sung Act IV aria. He cuts a fine figure throughout the performance, with an intense stage presence even in absence of any singing. Ashley Curling as Dama fills out a small role with a committed performance and gorgeously blossoming high notes.

The orchestra fared quite well with a full, rounded sound that fills the space suitably. The coordination between the orchestra and the chorus was the most noticeable sloppiness of the night, the two regularly getting mismatched by half a beat, but it may very well have just been the nature of the overly live performance space. The chorus is small for Verdi but blends nicely, especially the women’s chorus.

There was something missing in the overall scope of the production, besides the obvious sightline issues. Perhaps it was an immediacy, or an authenticity, that as audience members, we hope for in a stripped-down production, especially when sitting so close to the playing space. Many moments felt quintessentially “opera-y” and detracted from the thoughtfulness the singers were so committed to providing.

That being said, Macbeth is an ambitious opera, and for the excellent singing alone, it’s worth a try. There aren’t many venues where such fine singing could be heard in this mammoth of a Verdi composition, and at least you get to go on an adventure to get there.  

Alexis Rodda

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):