Kungliga Operan Stockholm – Verdi’s Macbeth

Macbeth – Opera in four acts to a text by Francesco Maria Piave & Andrea Maffei after the play by William Shakespeare

Macbeth – Michele Kalmandi
Banquo – Jaakko Ryhänen
Lady Macbeth – Lena Nordin
Macduff – Badri Maisuradze
Malcolm – Jonas Degerfeldt
Lady Macbeth’s gentlewoman – Agneta Lundgren
Macbeth’s servant – John Erik Eleby
Spirit – Tomas Bergström

Chorus & Orchestra of Royal Opera Stockholm
Pier Giorgio Morandi

Vilppu Kiljunen – Director
Sampo Pyhälä – Set design
Marja Uusitalo – Costumes
Linus Fellbom – Lighting

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 20 March, 2009
Venue: Kungliga Operan, Stockholm

This was a performance in the premiere run of a new production at Royal Opera Stockholm of Verdi’s early opera, and it was a thrilling experience. The relatively straightforward new staging by Vilppu Kiljunen captures all the elemental aspects of the narrative, and the drama had pace and tension from the start.

Matters were certainly helped by the vital playing of the orchestra and the full-blooded conducting of Pier Giorgio Morandi, one which never shirked from the fact that this was early Verdi and proving that the piece really benefits from being played as such. Lately there has been a tendency to over-beautify the score and treat passages such as Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene as a rather languid and sad affair. Here the music of that scene was taken at a very sprightly tempo indeed, with strong accentuation. With Lena Nordin singing the words as if in great agitation and distress the scene took on a whole new meaning, keeping the drama moving rather than being a virtuoso display for the soprano. The true horror of what the Macbeths had unleashed on Scotland had really come to haunt her dreams and this was a nightmarish vision of her state of mind.

Under Morandi the witches’ scenes had pace and did not outstay their welcome as they often can, and some of the other scenes involving the supernatural, such as the appearance of the apparitions of all the future Kings descended from Banquo, were judged perfectly – the off-stage brass at that moment being superbly handled. The ballet was cut, which was a shame as one would have liked to have heard it given the brilliance of the playing elsewhere.

There was a superb cast of principals. The role of Macbeth had been double cast in the run (initially it was to have been taken by Peter Mattei, but he had withdrawn before rehearsals started). At this performance the role was taken by Michele Kalmandi, and on the basis of his performance is a singer I would like to hear again and often. His baritone is strong, penetrating, rich and coloured and he has a wonderful sense of line. Each of Macbeth’s big scenes and arias were cleverly characterised by both physical and vocal means. He caught the anxious vacillation in ‘Mi si affaccia un Pugnal?’ as well as Macbeth’s terror at the appearance of Banquo’s ghost and the sadness of ‘Pietà, rispetto, amore’. He was also given ‘Mal per me che m’affidai’, the Act Four aria of the opera’s 1847 version, and made it a true culmination.

Lena Nordin made a wonderful foil as an attractive Lady Macbeth. Her vocal portrayal was full of insight, and in her acting she was a suitably manipulative and divisive character. The dramatic requirements of the role seem to hold no terrors for her, her voice possessing both power and richness over a wide range, and she dispatched the florid coloratura with considerable aplomb.

Jaakko Ryhänen turned in a powerful performance as Banquo, where his large and resonant bass was heard to advantage – a shame he leaves the action so quickly! Badri Maisuradze’s Macduff was a sterling performance, making up in sheer vocal heft what his performance perhaps lacked in subtlety; ‘A la paterno mano’ could have benefited from a little more dynamic variety. In the other tenor role of Malcolm Jonas Degerfeldt made what he could of a character that is not given much opportunity to develop.

The chorus of the Royal Opera was on good form, providing great swells of sound in the big moments and entering into the spirit of the production. Sampo Pyhälä’s dark set is suitably forbidding and atmospherically lit and the sense of the spirit-world manipulating the action is potently depicted. However, it was Morandi’s conducting and the detailed performances of Nordin and Kalmandi that really stick in the memory.

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