Macbeth – an ROH production of Verdi’s darkest opera

Verdi’s Macbeth is a dark opera. It is relentlessly dark. There is no hint of a chuckle, no glimmer of romance anywhere in it. Of course, Shakespeare’s play is pretty dark,

Coronation of Macbeth (Simon Keenlyside) and Lady Macbeth (Liudmyla Monastryska)

but at least it has the porter’s wonderful soliloquy to give one light break in the middle – Verdi apparently didn’t want to break the mood, hence no porter in the opera.

Macbeth rues his dastardly deed

This opera is, to my knowledge, unique among operas in that Macbeth (Simon Keenlyside) is a total villain with no redeeming qualities.  He doesn’t even have the consistency that characterizes such villains as Iago or Scarpia.  Immediately after killing King Duncan he wishes the deed undone.  But that “remorse” doesn’t lead to any redemptive behavior.  No, he only compounds his villainy by committing more murders to cover up the first one.

King Duncan lies in state

During intermission, I heard a woman say that Macbeth was her favorite opera.  Not mine.  To thoroughly enjoy a dramatic opera, I need to identify with someone.  When, as is usually the case, that someone dies at the end, I want to feel sad – to wish that things could have turned out differently.

Banquo (Raymond Aceto)

But who can I identify with here other than Macbeth?  Banquo (Raymond Aceto) is dispatched in Act I.

Macduff (Dmitri Pittas) kneels to young Malcolm (Steven Ebel) as the new king; Macbeth's corpse is in the background

Macduff (Dmitri Pittas) has only one aria and is hardly on stage until the very end.  Young Malcolm (Steven Ebel) has even less exposure.

Lady Macbeth (Liudmyla Monastryska) has ambitions

In fact the only other real principal in the opera is Lady Macbeth (Liudmyla Monastryska) – and she’s even worse than her husband.  No, it has to be Macbeth.  But no part of me wants to change the final result and have him kill Macduff.

One reason that I had looked forward to going to Macbeth was that I had recently seen and heard Simon Keenlyside in the heroic role of Rodrigo in Don Carlos at one of the MetHD performances.  Both his acting and his singing were outstanding there.  It was obvious that he was thoroughly “into” the character of Rodrigo.

Lady Macbeth tries to bolster her husband's courage

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said with regard to Macbeth.  Keenlyside’s singing was great, and his acting was good, but he was acting the part – not living it.  This may well  have been because the character as defined by Shakespeare’s words and Verdi’s music is such a difficult one to define.  Maybe it’s because he was singing the part with a broken arm.  Whatever the reason, it was disappointing.

Mind you, I still enjoyed the opera.  The music is overpowering, and the production is very much in tune with the music.  The scenery in minimalist and black.  Except for orange turbans on the witches, the costumes of the chorus are black.  The total effect was effectively evil and eerie. I wish I could see this production again to catch many fine points I’m sure I missed Wednesday night.  I hope that MetHD will have it on their program in the not-too-distant future  – and/or that San Francisco Opera will schedule it sometime soon.  It would be interesting to see if another production seemed more connected.

Meanwhile, there still a few (5 to be precise) theaters in the country that have scheduled it for the future. They are all much too far from Palo Alto, but if you live in one of these localities, count your blessings and give it a go.

Cosford Cinema
1380 Miller Dr
Aug 6, 7, 8
University of Miami
Miami, FL 33146

Film Row Cinema at Columbia College1
Mar 6, 11
1104 S Wabash Ave
8th Floor
Chicago, IL 60605

Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation
Dec 10
290 Harvard St
Brookline, MA 02446

Detroit Institute of Arts
Aug 11
5200 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48202

South Carolina
The Peace Center for the Performing Arts
Sep 25
101 West Broad Street
Greenville, SC 29601

The Opera Nut

1875 S Bascom Ave
Campbell, CA 95008

Photos: © Bill Cooper / ROH

This review by Philip G Hodge appeared in on August 5, 2011

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One Response to Macbeth – an ROH production of Verdi’s darkest opera

  1. ellie says:

    i love this performance it is the greatest stage and the actors are amazing

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