Royal Opera House 2021 review: Macbeth


(Credit: © The Royal Opera / Clive Barda)

Covent Garden has a good lineage in Verdi covers – Richard Eyre’s “Traviata” has spanned over a quarter of a century; David McVicar’s “Rigoletto” lasted almost two decades; and now, Phyllida Lloyd’s “Macbeth” returns too, also almost 20 years old.

It is a production that has aged gracefully, without any signs of wear. While overflowing with spectacle, it creates plenty of psychological and dramatic space for its two mainstreams to explore these rich and evocative roles of Intermediate Period Verdi – here in the larger version from 1865.

Lloyd’s production, set in a generic sort of medieval Persia, has many simple but graphic touches. The dagger that Macbeth hallucinates is a streak of light, more imaginary than supernatural; Macbeth’s visit to the witches in Act Three is a feverish, guilty dream, ending in gruesome infanticide. It is a work of illusion and misunderstanding – power being the most illusory thing of all, whose ambivalent nature is represented by a veritable golden cage, in which Duncan is slain and Macbeth crowned.

Witches aren’t so much prophets of fate as they are action-shaping tricksters – aiding Banquo’s son in his escape, the messengers of Macbeth’s opening report. At the climax of the opera, Malcolm tries to refuse the crown, but is forced by the people to take it; the witches climb into the cage and surround it with hungry eyes. The more things change, the more they stay the same. There’s plenty of thrilling choreography – the dancers playing the witches in Act’s quasi-ballet are terribly jerky – spurred on by weird design choices – the golden toy procession announcing Duncan’s arrival at the castle and the glittering procession of the sons of Banquo in Macbeth’s vision.

The only missed note is struck by the gold sequined costumes worn by Macbeth and his wife in act two, which rather foolishly rustle like festive garlands. Christmas comes earlier each year, they say.

Make their killing mark

Given Lisette Oropesa’s recent star tour at the Garden in “Rigoletto” and “Traviata”, one could have risked the fatigue of the diva with the starry presence of Anna Pirozzi in another Verdi vehicle. But she more than made her mark – in a more sensational way, perhaps, in a top note that soared above the choral and orchestral forces massed in the finale of act one. It’s a voice with real power and crisp definition – you feel like Pirozzi doesn’t always know where she’s going to go, but she has always been precise at night. It’s a savagery that has served the character, suggesting not only ambition, a sort of blind lust for power, but also a rage against the world around him. She moved with determination and steel – a woman driven by something hellish.

His act a “Vieni affretta you! made for an electric door opener. But she also had control on her end. The famous sleepwalking scene housed a ghostly sweetness, highlighting a velvety background register with undertones of shadow.

Poor Macbeth – that’s her name on the poster, although the soprano is invariably the most honored. It was Simon Keenleyside’s fate, as you might expect, but he still sang a blink of an eye.

He may not be a traditional verdi baritone – less boastful and macho than we usually imagine – but he intelligently mobilizes his vocal and dramatic resources in this role. His more declamatory style suits the offended nature of the character – there was a strong sense of internal conflict, cruelty coming up against someone more vulnerable and uncertain, especially in the scene of Duncan’s murder. (It also intensifies Verdi’s vision of a work more spoken than sung.)

His most conventional song was in his last act four “Pietà, rispetto, amore, ” whose warm legato offered a moment of anguished tenderness. His death scene, Keenleyside growling and grating until the end, was a jaw-dropping thing.

Gunther Groissbock provided solid support as Banquo, although he was surprisingly uneven all the way down his register, sounding somewhat washed out. Otherwise, it was a grungy, solid performance, with a lot of steel in the vocals – there was less legato than one might have liked in this repertoire, and a gruff approach that, although cranky, made sometimes Verdi’s music a little awkward. But one cannot deny the impact of an atmospheric “Come dal ciel precipita”», Which clung to the sepulchral lighting of Paule Constable.

It’s not really a tenor opera, but Verdi’s rising star David Junghoon Kim opened Macduff’s relatively limited role with aplomb and liveliness; his sword fight with Keenleyside in the rotating golden cage was rather exciting. His singing in the big number of the Final Act, urging the Scottish people to rise up and overthrow their tyrannical leader, was accused of revolutionary zeal.

Next in line?

Many eyes were on Daniele Rustioni in the booth. Rustioni has been widely touted as a potential successor to Antonio Pappano as Music Director, and covers like these often function as association auditions. In my opinion, he probably made it to at least the second round of the recruiting process, not least thanks to the public response.

It was soft, characterful music throughout, with many hallmarks associated with Pappano’s own direction – elegant and sinuous phrasing, with moments of sharp lyricism. Rustioni invoked the misfortune and terror of trombones and timpani in the work’s most fateful episodes. There’s a keen eye for detail, with smoky strings featuring wispy dynamic shading in the sleepwalking scene.

The music in Act Three had surprising grace – more like Rossini than Verdi, in the best possible way, and this light lyricism of the Italian repertoire would surely make him a perfect successor to Pappano. How ambitious is he? Hopefully the incumbent doesn’t follow Duncan.

It’s a great opera for the choir – and William Spaulding’s choristers have constantly raised the roof. Notwithstanding, that is, some sets falter with the witches at the top of the series, who felt a bit messy and could have settled for a bit of venom – but they were deliciously mean in Act Three. . Scary, sorry Ss in “Patria oppressa” and full blast climaxes in the desperate discovery of Duncan’s body – a terrific theatrical moment too – made for a thrilling evening.

The rather austere and determined joy of the last choir number mixed rather well with the ambiguous conclusion of the production – a superb meeting between the direction and the music.

In sum, this revival was a major musical success that continued to plead in favor of the long-standing production.


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