Macbeth – Opera in four acts to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave after the tragedy by William Shakespeare [1865 version with Macbeth’s death scene from the 1847 version; sung in Italian with English surtitles]
Macbeth – Simon Keenlyside
Banquo – Günther Groissböck
Lady Macbeth – Anna Pirozzi
Lady-in-waiting – April Koyejo-Audiger
Servant to Macbeth – John Bernays
Duncan – John Gorick
Malcolm – Egor Zhuravskii
Macduff – David Junghoon Kim
Fleance – Malakai Bayoh
Assassin – Olle Zetterström
First Apparition – John Morrissey
Second Apparition – Jimmy Frow
Third Apparition – Anja Rabes
Herald – Jonathan Fisher
Doctor – Blaise Malaba
Royal Opera Chorus
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Director – Phyllida Lloyd
Revival director – Daniel Dooner
Designer – Anthony Ward
Lighting designer – Paule Constable
Choreographer – Michael Keegan-Dolan
Revival choreographer – Angelo Smimmo
Assistant revival choreographer – Keiko Hewitt-Teale
Fight director – Terry King
Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers
Reviewed: 16 November, 2021
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
“Contains adult themes” informs the ‘guidance’ to this production that is given on the online cast-sheet for this revival of Phyllida Lloyd’s evocative and stylised production from 2002 of Verdi’s condensation of Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth. Those “themes” hover throughout the production, pervading it and infecting the mind if not acted explicitly on the stage. It is a dimly-lit staging, matching the darkness in the hearts of its two protagonists, although the abject misery of the whole tragedy seemed dialled-down in this at-times clinical presentation. There are some effective set-pieces, such as Macbeth’s vision of the kingly heirs of Banquo: a grand golden procession of mounted kings.
The oft-present cage holds at various points Macbeth, his Lady, the crown and others: trapped by their actions. Whilst not a line used by librettist Francesco Maria Piave, Macbeth’s thought from the play’s Act III Scene 4 – “I am in blood / Stepped in so far, that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er” – dominates the effective characterisation from Simon Keenlyside: Macbeth is so involved with many murders that it is easy for him to carry on than to turn back; and the ‘tedious’ nature of it reveals the hardening of Macbeth’s heart.
Keenlyside had the measure of this awkward role, particularly in the internalised sequences, more so than where leadership and stature are needed. This made Macbeth particularly frightening and unpredictable in the ‘dream’ sequences. In voice his rich baritone was especially effective in the daringly quiet moments.
Anna Pirozzi’s Lady Macbeth was a musical performance to revival the best heard here in recent years. The confidence of the notes matched her character’s brazen swagger. This Lady lead the action, and compelled from first note to last. What she missed was the devilish scheming that is this Lady, but for sheer terror through voice, Pirozzi compelled. Her Act II’s drinking song was a most overtly delicious and perverse counterpoint to La traviata’s Brindisi, and the Sleepwalking Scene had, from Pirozzi, a freeness of expression that harked to those old soprano ‘mad scenes’.
As the doomed companion to Macbeth, Günther Groissböck made a formidable and noble Banquo, an apposite pendant to Keenlyside’s Macbeth, and nicely paralleling the (smaller) roles of Macduff and Malcolm. David Junghoon Kim made much with ‘Ah, la paterna mano’, Macduff’s lament for his murdered wife and children. The Chorus, after some initial fuzziness, were in delectable form across the four acts: tremendous at Act I’s conclusion; appearances as or witches always carried a sinister edge; quite heart-stopping as refugees at the opening of Act IV.
Daniele Rustioni’s conducting was propulsive and idiomatic to the drama unfolding on the stage. It was quite an intense reading, with the score’s frequent juxtapositions of all-pervading gloom and visceral madness entirely natural. The Orchestra and singers were with him. This is a revival well worth seeing.