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 Reviews

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Macbeth </em>: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
26 Mar 2018

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

Macbeth : Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Željko Lučić and cast

Photo credit: Bill Cooper

 

Key scenes take place at night. The witches, who meet Macbeth ‘’ere the set of sun’, are, says Banquo, ‘ The instruments of darkness [who] tell us truths’. Lady Macbeth invokes darkness to help her to descend to hellish depths: ‘Come, thick night,/And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,/That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,/Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,/ To cry “Hold, hold!”’ While one would not doubt the transformative magic effected by Shakespeare’s text, it’s a play that seems less suited to a sun-lit staging on the broad platform of London’s Globe Theatre, say, than to the candle-lit intimacies of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse which now sits alongside.

This might have been a matinee performance but Anthony Ward’s designs and Paule Constable’s lighting set for Phyllida Lloyd’s 2002 Macbeth, receiving its third revival at the ROH under revival director Daniel Dooner, certainly plunged us into an enveloping blackness. And, as we moved through murky vaults and weightily panelled castle rooms, strong contrasts of shrouding coal-blackness and concentrated brightness vividly evoked the claustrophobic darkness of the troubled mind - none more effectively than the dagger of light that streaks like a bolt of lightning across the floor as Macbeth contemplates regicide and its consequences. Even the cherished and acquired golden sceptre, for all its bright gleam, suffocates with hollow promise rather than liberates through ambition fulfilled: kingship is a gilded cage, sometimes a miniature casket, sometimes spinning throne room, but always sterile and unrewarding.

Crown cage Netrebko.jpgAnna Netrebko (Lady Macbeth). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

However, Lloyd and Ward also successfully enlarge the vista at times, particularly with the arrival of Macduff’s and Malcolm’s armed soldiers in Act 4. In this way, Macbeth reverses the trajectory of Othello which moves from Venetian streets, the beaches of Cyprus, and rooms of state towards the terrible poignant intimacy of the bedchamber. And, there are some impressing visual images which cut through the prevailing gloom: the body of the executed traitor, Cawdor, splayed behind the battlefield; Duncan’s blood-stained corpse displayed in a glass coffin in the subterranean mausoleum where Banquo will meet his untimely end; Lady Macbeth’s bath - a marble sarcophagus into which she slips at the end of her first scene, thereby introducing the juxtaposition of blood and water which runs through the play and will be underscored when the bath returns in the sleep-walking scene.

Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Banquo .jpg Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (Banquo). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

I am less enamoured by Lloyd’s decision to make the witches not just the messengers of Fate but its very agents: they carry Macbeth’s letter from the battlefield to his wife; they open a trapdoor which enables Fleance to escape from the murderers who slay his father. Surely this undermines the very notion of Fate which needs no assisting interventions? More significantly, it conflicts with Shakespeare’s Queen’s conviction that her husband will wear ‘the golden round,/ Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem/ To have thee crown'd withal’ [emphasis added]. And, in weakening Lady Macbeth’s own authority over her husband, the ambiguity of influence is destroyed: is it Fate, evil as embodied by the witches, his wife’s insatiable lust for power or Macbeth’s own ‘vaulting ambition’ that drives the inexorable tragedy. Verdi himself had described Lady Macbeth as ‘il demonio dominatore’ (the dominating demon … [who] controls everything’. [1]

Witches with Lučić.jpg Željko Lučić and witches chorus. Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

Admittedly, Verdi’s opera is less interested in individual psychologies than Shakespeare’s play. Terrible acts are carried out, but the pace is swift and there’s not time for much self-scrutinising soul-raking. And, Lloyd uses the witches to create visual and dramatic coherence, as when their red turbans metamorphose into the military sashes sported by Macduff’s troops. Moreover, the branches from Birnam Wood which the soldiers clutch are the very staffs so roughly stamped into the ground by the witches in the opening chorus. The latter gesture and other choreographic exaggerations, such as the witches’ tortured writhing at the start of Act 3, sometimes border on pantomime. But, there are other effectively choreographed moments such as the monk-habited murderers killing of Banquo as he pays homage at Duncan’s tomb, and the staging of the banquet scene which spins with slippery unease - though Banquo’s ghost fails to make its present felt in the maelstrom.

I also remain unconvinced by the production’s intimation that it is the anguish of childlessness that drives the usurping couple. Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth has ‘given suck’ (though admittedly the Macbeth’s children don’t loom large in the play text); but, more importantly, she taunts the unmanly, wavering Macbeth with her own derision for feminine and maternal feeling and the fortitude of her purpose: ‘I … know/How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:/ I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums, /And dash’d the brains out,had I so sworn as you/ Have done to this.

Lloyd’s reading seems to negate one of the most chilling images of the play. In Act 3, Macbeth’s imagined dreams of happy family life are briefly fulfilled by the witches who bring in a brood of children to perch upon the marriage bed, bearing them aloft like angels, only to snatch them away again and for the bed to divide, the schism between the couple - who remain onstage, asleep on their single beds as Malcolm’s troops gather - forever irreparable. But, it is surely guilt which isolates the couple? Verdi, unlike Shakespeare, has Lady Macbeth in on the plot to murder Banquo, but it’s hard to imagine that she kills herself - if indeed it is suicide that brings about her end - because she is not a mother.

If the conflicts of conscience are suggested by Constable’s contrasts of blackness and brightness, then conductor Antonio Pappano conjured equally striking chiaroscuro effects from the ROH orchestra. The pianissimo wind melody and violin whispers which begin the overture were brutally thrust aside by the loud heralding triplet motif of dark bassoons, trumpets and trombones; then, from the silence, crept the slightest, most tentative of violin forays, only for the strings to be obliterated by a tutti onslaught. So the battle of light and darkness went on, as vividly painted, and at times as shocking, as a Caravaggio biblical drama. Pappano also knows how to make something of Verdi’s rum-te-tum accompaniments, not quite, but almost, overcoming the disjuncture we sometimes feel between the surprisingly jaunty musical sound-world and what we imagine to be the unsettling maelstroms within the individuals’ psyches.

Sleep walking scene Netrebko as Lady Macbeth ROH. PHOTO BY Bill Cooper.jpgAnna Netrebko (Lady Macbeth). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

Of course, Verdi’s Macbeth needs a Queen who can reign over all, and the ROH was fortunate to have Anna Netrebko to draw in the crowds and preside vocally. I have to say that the icing on the cake of this theatrically imperial performance - which was throughout and at the final curtain vigorously and loudly lauded - would have been, for this listener at least, a little more pitch-precision and occasionally a less steely hardness. Netrebko’s Queen was reckless from her the first, storming wildly through ‘Vieni! T'affretta!’ with impetuous fire and undeniable wilfulness and in Act II’s ‘La luce langue’ (the 1865 revised Paris score was used) her implacable desire, bordering on insanity, could not be doubted. Netrebko’s soprano has tremendous weight - at the close of Act 2 she brilliantly and brazenly surmounted the choral majesty - and both sheen and darkness, and a whole host of other textures and colours in between. And, if I longed for a little more grace at times then my wish was fulfilled in the sleep-walking scene were such is the Russian soprano’s technique - already greatly in evidence in the tight trills of the brindisi - that she was able to bring together the conflicting voices of Lady Macbeth’s inner conscience - the disjointed fragments, the leaps between registers, the arioso which tantalisingly offers the all too brief consolation of cantabile lyricism - and she almost nailed the quiet Db peak at the close. Perhaps Netrebko’s acting was a little too self-conscious at times, but there’s no doubt that she created a lustrous-voiced Queen to please the composer who called for a Lady Macbeth who was ‘ugly and evil … [with] a diabolical quality’. [2]

Željko Lučić as Macbeth and Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth.jpgŽeljko Lučić and Anna Netrebko. Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

Netrebko was reunited with baritone Željko Lučić with whom she appeared in Macbeth at the Met in 2014. Lučić’s warrior seemed psychologically wounded from the start, unnerved by the appearance of the witches and dominated by his wife, and he didn’t really plumb the depths of vaulting ambition nor convince me that there was any chemistry between the regal pair. But, Lučić’s baritone is mellow, if not velvety, and the line elegant. If the vocal vacillations of Act I’s ‘Due vaticini’ were not totally persuasive, and if the Serbian baritone had a tendency to be just below the note, then Act IV’s ‘Pietà, rispetto, amore’ was measured, powerful and true.

Yusif Eyvazov as Macduff.jpgYusif Eyvazov (Macduff). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

All of the emphasis in Macbeth is on the central protagonists - Macduff is not an antagonist but a tenore comprimario and the murder of Lady Macduff and her children are excised (though Lloyd makes their presence felt briefly, when they make a hasty exit from the banquet) - but the ROH cast for this revival is uniformly strong and we enjoyed a beautiful exemplification of bel canto technique from Yusif Eyvazov (Macduff) and a strong performance by Jette Parker Young Artist Konu Kim as a reluctantly crowned Malcolm. I particularly liked the directness and sombre colour of Ildebrando D’Arcangelo’s Banquo, and as the Doctor and Lady-In-Waiting respectively, JPYA’s Simon Shibambu and Francesca Chiejina introduced the somnambulist in clearly enunciated recitative.

This may not be a ‘perfect’ Macbeth, if there can be such a thing, but the cast - from fictional monarch to minion - conjure Verdi’s and Shakespeare’s darkness powerfully and persuasively.

Claire Seymour

Giuseppe Verdi: Macbeth

Macbeth - Željko Lučić, Lady Macbeth - Anna Netrebko, Banquo - Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, Macduff - Yusif Eyvazov, Lady-in-waiting - Francesca Chiejina, Malcolm - Konu Kim, Doctor - Simon Shibambu, Fleance - Matteo di Lorenzo, Assassin - Olle Zetterström, First Apparition - John Morrissey, Second Apparition - Gaius Davey Bartlett, Third Apparition - Edward Hyde, Herald - Jonathan Coad; Director - Phyllida Lloyd, Conductor - Antonio Pappano, Designer - Anthony Ward, Lighting designer - Paule Constable, Choreography - Michael Keegan-Dolan, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Royal Opera Chorus (Concert Master - Sergey Levitin).

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Sunday 25th March 2018.



[1] Quoted in David Rosen and Andrew Porter, Verdi’s ‘Macbeth’: A Sourcebook (New York, 1984), p.99.

[2] Verdi, letter to Salvatore Cammarano, 23rd November 1848; trans. in Verdi’s ‘Macbeth’, p.67.

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):