Macbeth, Buxton Festival, July 2017

Last year the Buxton Festival put on a very successful Leonora, rather than its later version Fidelio, and this year sees the original 1847 version of Verdi’s Macbeth. Its directness and freshness are illuminated by Elijah Moshinsky’s minimal, darkly-lit, and very effective staging with excellent movement conveying the powers of hell embodied in the witches, and the murderous intent of the Macbeths.

After the murder of Duncan, all images Buxton Festival/ Robert Workman

When Verdi wrote the opera he objected to the soprano assigned the role of Lady Macbeth as having too beautiful a voice, and got his way. Vocal power and dramatic incision are key, and lovely Australian soprano Kate Ladner in her role debut produced these in spades, hugely powerful in her Act II black gown as she succeeds in her purpose of getting Macbeth to agree the murder of Banquo, and soaring effortlessly above chorus and orchestra when needed. As Macbeth himself, Stephen Gadd showed tireless vocal force and determined energy, his eyes reflecting the character’s ambitious insecurity. Supporting roles were very well performed: Moldovan bass Oleg Tsibulkov as Banquo gave a fine rendering of the famous aria before his murder, Korean tenor Yung Soo Yun produced strongly emotional singing as Macduff, particularly within the excellent chorus of Scottish refugees, and Luke Sinclair’s portrayal of a noble Malcolm at the end came over beautifully from a box high up on one the side of the auditorium.

After seeing Banquo’s ghost

Lady Macbeth sleepwalking

This production with designs by Russell Craig, its clever use of video projections by Stanley Orwin-Fraser (though they somewhat overshadowed Macbeth in his big aria towards the end), and realistic fight sequences by Philip D’Orléans gives a visceral understanding of this early Verdi opera, written when the composer was just 34. Although he revised it in 1865, the main framework remains that of the original with its superb dramatic compression that directly captures the essence of Shakespeare’s play. This is the work of a master artisan and man of the theatre, whose marvellous distancing effect in the rumpty-tum music of Duncan’s funeral cortege is all part of the dramatic effect. Congratulations to Stephen Barlow for compelling music direction, just two days after seeing him conduct Wagner’s Walküre at Grange Park Opera!

Unlike elaborate and expensive productions at some major opera houses, Moshinsky’s staging, powerful in its simplicity, is well-adapted to a theatre of size comparable to the Teatro della Pergola in Florence where the opera premiered in 1847.

Performances continue on various dates until July 21 — for details click here.

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