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A Thrilling Production

Verdi's 'Macbeth' impresses MIKE WHEELER


Opera North began a series of Shakespeare operas with Verdi's Falstaff in autumn 2007. For their current tour they have brought together three contrasted works, beginning with Verdi's Macbeth (Theatre Royal, Nottingham, UK, 28 May 2008).

Tim Albery's production capitalises on Johan Engels' deliberately sparse set, dominated by a cliff-like wall at the rear, part-way up which the three principal witches are perched as the curtain rises. In an overtly male-dominated world, the witches fulfil the conventional female roles: they are midwives, cleaners, knitters; one of them even brings Macbeth a cup of tea during his second visit to them. They attend Lady Macbeth, newly miscarried, during the Prelude, and deliver Banquo's wife of her line of kings at the start of Act 3 (the Macbeths' childlessness, as against the fertility of the Banquo line, is one of the plot's main drivers). The witches also carry out the scene-changes, establishing their quiet but all-pervasive influence on events.

Musically there isn't a weak link anywhere. Robert Hayward's rich-voiced Macbeth charts a compelling slide from initial confidence to final pit of nihilism. Bewildered, full of self-doubt, he keeps the panic in the supper scene credible (Banquo's ghost is no weird apparition but simply another dinner guest, but it's this matter-of-fact-ness that heightens Macbeth's hysterical reaction). Antonia Cifrone has the right hint of steel in her tone to give Lady Macbeth a scary determination and authority that contrasts sharply with her later disintegration. She is quietly mesmerising in the sleepwalking scene.

Ernesto Morillo Hoyt's Banquo is a solid, dependable comrade-in-arms. Peter Auty gives Macduff's Act 4 aria a genuine note of ringing heroism. The Opera North chorus excel themselves, producing an authentically Verdian thrill when the action hots up, and giving 'Patria oppressa' a kind of weary nobility.

The orchestra plays with both spirit and subtlety, with conductor Martin Pickard keeping a firm grip on the opera's overall pacing.

Costumes are non-specifically modern -- military greatcoats for Macbeth and his comrades, business suit for Lady Macbeth, black tie and cocktail dresses for the supper guests. In this world of black and white, grey and muted colours, items of blood-soaked clothing stand out all the more vividly.

A thrilling production of a thrilling opera.

Copyright © 5 June 2008 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK



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