Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Macbeth, Royal Opera

This was a punchy performance of Verdi's Macbeth, a comprehensively well done production with impressive soloists and the company in its stride. The piece is a peculiar animal, given to spasms of drama seemingly in order to shake itself out of drifting into grand opera cruise mode. Also, I heard a performance in a cinema via live relay, an experience with advantages and privations, but one that allows more scrutiny of detail than in the holistic experience of the auditorium (I'll blog separately about the cinema experience later).

The title refers to the superstitious, thuggish, venal pretender to the Scottish throne but might refer to the couple who plot the precipitant drama of the opera. For me this production is all about the Lady Macbeth of Liudmyla Monastyrska, a force of nature who is clearly going to get the better of her paranoid husband. An attractive woman of unstinting character focus, Monastyrska has a great power envelope which allows for both extremes of frenzied ululation and long murmured lines of insanity. The Act 4 mad scene is utterly mesmerising, a masterclass in not only piano singing but also the manipulation of the voice to incorporate micro- and over-tones to adjust colour and expression (but without becoming affected). It must be said that the Doctor (Lukas Jakobski) and the Lady-in-waiting (Elisabeth Meister) contribute to this scene with fine legato singing of their own, a spectral Scotch mist of ensemble singing at just the right moment in the opera.

Beside this flawless performance I couldn't help but feel a little underwhelmed by Keenleyside's Macbeth. This is deeply unfair, not least as he is, by some margin, the best actor on the stage (and of course, at this time, still carrying the cast arrangement that supports his damaged left arm). His singing is excellent, both lovely and occasionally forceful but lacks a weight of depth that would have provided the hammer blow for me. More conventionally bass-baritone is the Banquo of Raymond Aceto who, along with the Macduff of Dimitri Pittas (and a solid Malcolm from Steven Ebel), gave performances that though very good were rendered rather more ordinary by Monastyrska.

As the Royal Opera moves towards the endgame of its season, its clear to see that there is a confidence and homogeneity in its corporate identity, especially when Pappano's in the pit. Whilst I can't go all out and say I was flamed by the chorus, they were certainly tightly controlled, even charismatic. The orchestra though, I can say, were startlingly good, clearly one of the best orchestras in London irrespective of function. The drama is the sound, there is no pecking order.

In the tradition of Phyllida Lloyd's earthy Walk├╝re for ENO, there is a connectivity between the ubiquity of life-sapped blood and life-giving water in this production, with a stand pipe almost as an extra character to the side of the stage. The witches are played as dervish-type harpies (the trance-like rituals of the first and third acts reminded me of the Sri Lankan melodrama of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom!) whose theatrical coup involving an unborn child is typical of the concept. Simple and well-manipulated set design aid the unceasingly confused dream and reality of the Macbeths' situation. Like the opera itself, a solid, even gripping operatic evening.

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