Macbeth, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2018Posted on 25 March 2018
This third revival of Phyllida Lloyd’s 2002 Macbeth is the perfect antidote to the Royal Opera’s poorly-received, recent productions of Carmen and House of the Dead. With a fantastic cast, this is absolutely not to be missed.
Casting was a problem for Verdi, who produced Macbeth at the same time as I masnadieri (based on a drama by Schiller). The Schiller went to London and the Shakespeare, which did not require a leading tenor, to Florence. It does however require a superb soprano and baritone, and Anna Netrebko and Željko Lučić are really unbeatable. Assertive in her portrayal, hugely musical and forceful, Ms Netrebko’s first aria elicited enormous applause. Eschewing the beautiful voice that Verdi was anxious to avoid, she gave us the vocal sharp edges and in the sleepwalking scene a hollowness fitting the slow disintegration of her over-confident narcissism.
The excellent arrogance, worried introspection and firm lyricism of Mr. Lučić as her husband made a wonderful contrast. Their Act I duet was beautifully sung and staged, and his Act IV solo produced thunderous applause. Yet this was a performance replete with superb singing all round. Ildebrando D’Arcangelo made a firmly commanding presence as Banquo, and Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazov was a revelation in his Royal Opera debut as Macduff, his Act IV lament eliciting well-deserved cheers. The chorus in its many roles as witches, soldiers and refugees performed extremely well, and among supporting roles, Konu Kim made a very strong Malcolm, Francesca Chiejina produced lovely singing as the lady-in-waiting, and Jonathan Fisher added a rich bass as Macbeth’s servant.
Under the musical direction of Antonio Pappano this was a thrilling performance, and under revival director Daniel Dooner the staging did what it’s supposed to do without distractions (if we forget the noisy scene change in Act II). I love the placing and movements of the witches in this production, and when Banquo’s son avoids the assassins one witch slips him into a hole to help their prophesies come true, before he escapes on the other side of the stage. The design concept of the gilded cage, in which Macbeth finds himself entrapped is well developed, and I loved the brief glimpse of it spinning in Act III before the witches enter.
This is excellent theatre without the directorial contortions and inventions that have plagued the two most recent new productions at Covent Garden. It allows the music to speak for itself.
Performances continue on various dates until April 10, with cast changes for Macduff and Lady Macbeth, and a live cinema relay on April 4 — for details click here.