Last Updated on November 18, 2021
Verdi takes Shakespeare’s Macbeth to the Opera.
The fabulous opening of Macbeth tonight at the Royal Opera House is a revival of the production by Phyllida Lloyd, first staged in 2002 and performed there most recently in 2018. It’s a striking show, one which has both an immediate impact and is pervasive, if not entirely comfortable. Perhaps that’s the point though?
To make the rather complicated plot work as an opera, Verdi centred the work on the two principal characters Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, with a chorus of witches and supporting roles from Banquo and Macduff. The Royal Opera House production is largely based on Verdi’s 1865 Paris revision of the opera which includes the famous aria ‘La Luce Langue’, added to act II in 1865.
Light is languishing, the beacon that eternally
Moves in the vast heavens is dying away!
Oh desired night, your providentially veil
The guilty hand which is going to strike the blow.
New crime!!…it’s necessary!
The fatal deed must be done.
The dead do not care to reign
Let them rest in eternal peace!
It’s an aria that is the perfect showcase for the female lead. And, Anna Pirozzi as Lady Macbeth is stellar. A dramatic coloratura soprano, her rich voice soars through her entire range.
As she reads Macbeth’s letter, her first aria starts with a few spoken words then moves into an acapella opening. It sets the tone for what is to follow. Anna Pirozzi was rightly applauded throughout.
Simon Keenlyside makes a fine Macbeth and is both a lyrical and expressive baritone. He has sung Macbeth at the Royal Opera to critical acclaim since 2011. In tonight’s production, he was very much at home in the role and an excellent match for his Lady.
Banquo played by Günther Groissböck was a stable, righteous friend with a deep, clear bass, while Macduff played by David Junghoon Kim sang a tear-jerking rendition of ‘Ah La Paterna Mano’.
All three Jette Parker young artists had great performances, April Koyejo-Audiger as the Lady in Waiting pairing immaculately with Blaise Malaba as The Doctor and Egor Zhuravskii as Malcolm.
While the opening witches chorus faltered slightly, for the rest of the evening the entire extended chorus was powerful and beautifully synchronised.
It’s easy to see why Verdi wanted to create an opera based on the story of Macbeth, one of Shakespeare’s most dramatic plays. Both the original version, which premiered in Florence in 1847, and the later Paris revision were highly acclaimed. However, despite being one of the composer’s own favourites, during his lifetime Macbeth never achieved the popularity of some of his other works. The theme of Macbeth; political corruption, tyrannical rule and a longing for freedom, was very real to Verdi – Italy was a fractured country at the time and his operas helped foster the revolutionary activities of the Risorgimento. In this production, Macbeth’s people take refuge in England before returning to Scotland with Malcolm and Macduff to overturn the tyrant King.
On paper, the Phyllida Lloyd production sounds strange. The witches wear black robes and red turbans. Royalty is marked by gold costumes and a gilded cage large enough to house the king’s horse at one point and to tilt like a super cage fight for the final battle between Macbeth and Macduff. The sets are moody – faces obscured. The story focuses on the Macbeths’ childlessness as the underlying sadness that resulted in their terrible deeds. Lighting is used to create the imaginary dagger and Birnham wood is made of deep red branches. But, it works – creating a surreal tone to the whole evening.
The plot remains the same. Macbeth fights on the side of the King of Scotland but, encouraged by the prophecy of a coven of witches, he and his wife murder the King and then Banquo.
Crowned King, Macbeth has a short but doomed reign. The witches make their strange prediction, both Macbeth and his wife lose their lives and justice is restored.
Whether or not you know the opera, it’s one where time flies. Daniele Rustioni conducts the orchestra in a fast-moving and concise performance that shouldn’t be missed.
Tuesday 16 November 2021, 7 pm
Friday 19 November 2021 7.30 pm
Sunday 21 November 2021 6.00 pm
Wednesday 24 November 2021 7.30 pm
Friday 26 November 2021 7.30 pm
Tuesday 30 November 2021 7.30 pm
Royal Opera House, Bow Street, London, WC2E 9DD
For more information and tickets click here.
Also showing through November at the Royal Opera House is another work laced with the supernatural, the ballet Giselle. Check our review