Verdi “Macbeth”, Royal Opera House

Posted on May 25th, 2011

Phyllida Lloyd’s 2002 staging of Verdi’s Macbeth is prematurely looking like a parody of itself – an exhibit in one of designer Anthony Ward’s gilded display cases. But it’s sounding rather terrific in this second revival and before we actually see the shrieking and cackling hags of Verdi’s prelude – a bizarrely choreographed red-turbaned chorus line – Antonio Pappano has rendered them, along with the blood and thunder of brassy premonitions, in high-definition. And that, one presumes, is how it will be relayed live into cinemas across the nation and the world on 13 June.

Pappano’s presence on the podium lifts the whole occasion and his relish, rhythmically and texturally, for this most exciting and experimental of scores gives it tremendous immediacy. It sounds new; it just doesn’t look it – though aspects of Lloyd’s direction are bold and true: like the use of the witches as agents of plot development – like ferrying Macbeth’s letter from the battlefield to his wife’s pillow. And there is one startlingly effective moment when we are shown the Macbeth family that might have been – replete with its brood of happy offspring – before the marital bed is split in two and we see them for what they are: loveless, childless, alienated.

Casting-wise the power behind the throne is something that Verdi went all-out to nail and to say that the abundantly talented Liudmyla Monastyrska takes no prisoners is something of an understatement. She devours her entrance aria like it’s something she does each day to warm up and rarely will you hear a voice dominating the ensembles in this way: she crowned that roar of outrage at the discovery of Duncan’s murder, “Hell open wide and swallow all creation”, with startling power. She won’t need a cinema relay – you’ll hear her in Aberdeen.

But, as we heard in her Aida, she doesn’t shirk the more finessed markings and coloratura and though the sleepwalking scene was not her best singing of the evening she almost managed the wicked piano D-flat at the close. Of course, her school of acting could not be further removed from Simon Keenlyside whose sonorous vocal production and really grateful legato is what Verdi baritone roles are all about. But then Verdi took his power-crazed Lady M to the cusp of recklessness and provided Monastyrska continues to curb her “chesting” and not sing the role too often then she could still be singing it in 10 years time. Hopefully not, though, in this production.

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