Macbeth at Lyric: Blood, blood everywhere and not a drop to drink

Lyric's production of Verdi's Macbeth was not a total tragedy, managing to combine a tragic plot, rousing choruses, and circus aerials into a production worthy of half the audience standingly ovating.

For me, the performance induced cognitive dissonance.  Verdi's opera, like Shakespeare's play, takes place in Scotland, though you wouldn't know it by the music, the language, the costumes, or the set.  The only things Scottish were Macbeth's Braveheart locks, the hand-forearm shake, and the Macallan 12 I had at intermission.  You know what they say about all things not Scottish.

In fact, nothing seemed to go together.  The sets and the costumes seemed to be borrowed from a troupe of androids from the future trying to imagine medieval Scotland.  Though Verdi broke ground by writing an opera that wasn't a love story, he neglected to change the music; Lady Macbeth's Act I aria about conjuring the demons of hell shouldn't sound like she's falling in love.

Thomas Hampson (Macbeth) had a voice to suit the part: strong yet vulnerable, attractive yet not all that pretty.  Nadja Michael (Lady Macbeth) drove her husband to kill and nearly did the same to me.  Her first act arias proved her ability to sing "like a banshee" while slinking around and writhing like 
Gozer, the destructor.  She's one you either love or hate, and for me, unfortunately, I loathed having her on stage, flaunting her hot bod and wailing hysterically.  [For her curtain call, nearly half the audience stood.]  Perhaps it was just a matter of proximity: my seat was relatively close to the stage, whereas Ms. Michael was playing--not just to the back of the room--but to somewhere downstate.  All that being said, her Act IV aria was bone-chillingly haunting; I finally felt sympathetic to her character, whom I had been killing off in my head since the beginning.

The supporting cast nearly eclipsed the leads. Stefan Kocán (Banquo) played one of the few likable characters, singing with a sound like a rich string bass.  Leonardo Capalbo (Macduff) had a more traditional Italian tenor sound, like butter dripping off a hot biscuit.

The chorus and orchestra never cease to amaze me and were in their usual top form; Renato Palumbo coaxed out a very sensitive, lyrical overture from the pit and, conversely, rhythmic precision from the singers.

From the Galley

Macbeth dates from Verdi's "galley years", in which he toiled endlessly only to produce a few operas the public still hears.  We here in Chicago were blessed last year with Ernani--and I do mean "blessed" (in the way a religious couple describes an unplanned pregnancy); this year, we get Macbeth, which reminded me of my vow to avoid the first half of Verdi's output.  [I was much happier with Macbeth than Ernani but have labored enough in Verdi's galley.]

And, for the first time, I feel like the Lyric production misinterprets the score.  While Shakespeare's work is dark and heavy, Verdi's is surprisingly light--inappropriately so, but so it is.  There were moments in the libretto and the music that deserved more comedy but were played dramatically serious on stage, resulting in too many mixed messages with nothing to say.

Filed under: lyric, review

Tags: lyric, opera, verdi

Leave a comment