The Metropolitan Opera – Macbeth

Macbeth – Opera in four acts [1865 version, minus ballet; libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, after Shakespeare’s play; sung in Italian, with English, German and Spanish Met Titles]

Macbeth – Željko Lučić
Banquo – John Relyea
Lady Macbeth – Maria Guleghina
Malcolm – Russell Thomas
Macduff – Dimitri Pittas

The Metropolitan Opera Chorus

The Orchestra of the Metropolitan Orchestra
James Levine

Adrian Noble – Original Production
Mark Thompson – Set and Costume Design
Jean Kalman – Lighting Design

Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette

Reviewed: 22 October, 2007
Venue: The Metropolitan Opera, New York City

A recent preview article in the New York Times about Adrian Noble’s new staging of “Macbeth” at the Metropolitan Opera was entitled “This Time, No Laughing at the Witches” – referring to the audience’s reaction to the previous Peter Hall production. However, it was hard to not at least chuckle at this bunch of frumpy housewives in dowdy dresses, ill-fitting coats, hats, and white bobby-sox doing campy choreography. Strange creatures they were indeed, but hardly other-worldly or frightening.

This production has updated the setting to the 1940s, judging by the military costumes and the jeep of Act Four. Mark Thompson’s magnificent sets are rather timeless – a semicircle of silhouettes of trees, flanked on both sides by three tall columns; these are moved about and a screen is lowered, to ingeniously create the indoor settings of Macbeth’s castle. On a predominantly gray canvas of scenery and costumes, color is used sparingly – Lady Macbeth’s red-dress in the banquet scene, a shimmering blue globe displaying the visions of Macbeth in the third act, bright green clouds against which huge discs with the images of the descendants of Banquo are lowered from the ceiling. And there is the blood, on Duncan’s body, all over Banquo’s shirt when he appears as a vision, and, of course, on the hands of Macbeth and his wife.

From the very beginning it is clear who is in charge in this marriage, and the opera might as well have been called ‘Lady Macbeth’. It is she who is pulling all the strings, and who dominates whenever she appears. Maria Guleghina brought high-drama to the role; her powerful sexuality (including a near ‘costume malfunction’ in the first act) renders Macbeth completely helpless to resist her murderous suggestions. During the banquet her high spirits have her breaking into Flamenco, while in the last act her despair and madness were palpable in the sleepwalking scene. Verdi asked for a soprano to sing “harsh, stifled and dark” here, and the Russian soprano would not have disappointed him. Hers is a big voice, and she used it with abandon, hurling herself at the high notes. While in the beginning a wide vibrato was noticeable in the top register, she gained control over it; at any rate, the sheer power of her performance, both vocally and dramatically carried the day.

Željko Lučić’s Macbeth almost paled in comparison. Less the power-hungry nobleman than a thoroughly dominated husband; one could almost feel sorry for him as he was led inexorably towards his doom. Vocally the Serbian baritone gave a mixed performance, singing with a beautiful tone at times, while at others it turned dry. His pitch was tentative at best, getting flatter during the course of the performance. In supporting roles, John Relyea sang a robust Banquo, and Dimitri Pittas as Macduff made the most of his aria lamenting the murder of his family.

Except for some problems of blend during the witches’ scene at the beginning, the Metropolitan Opera Chorus sang with spirit and beauty, especially at the beginning of Act Four. The orchestra likewise played with power as well as great refinement under James Levine. By revising the 1847 score 18 years later for a Paris production, Verdi created a hybrid of sorts. The beginning is unabashedly Italianate, from the village-band playing off-stage during King Duncan’s arrival to the jaunty chorus threatening Banquo’s assassination, while in the last two acts we can hear the mature composer who has wedded words and music exquisitely. Levine proved himself to be at home with both stylistic aspects of the work.

  • Performances on 26 & 31 October and November 3
  • Further performances in January and March
  • Metropolitan Opera

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