On October 8, 2016, we attended the Los Angeles Opera production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth, first composed by the great master in 1847 and partially revised for a Paris production in 1865.
As those of you who have read my comments before know, I am relatively easy to please, and I love most of Giuseppe Verdi’s operas, including this opera, so I do not want you to think that any negative reflections I make below mean I was not happy that I attended this performance. I fact, I was very glad I went, and as a whole, loved it, probably because I love this opera, mixed bag though it is. My comments reflect only that I wish certain things had been done differently.
- The Cast. Verdi’s Macbeth was composed for a baritone and a soprano as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Placido Domingo, now singing baritone roles, cast himself as Macbeth. One could note that his voice lacks the richness it once had, that although he hits the baritonal notes, he still sounds like a tenor, and that he is stealing work from a real baritone. That said, I was impressed by his performance. It was dramatically convincing, for example, in the Act I duet with Lady Macbeth, and certain parts; for example, his Act IV lament to lost honor, respect and love, were very beautiful. By the way, he also performed at least part of the “Mal per me” aria that existed in the 1847 version, but was deleted from the revision, something Verdi, of course, never intended, but it did no damage. Ekaterina Semenchuk, Lady Macbeth, is a mezzo-soprano, with a substantial voice, but still miscast. In her first aria, she clearly had problems with the coloratura. On the other hand, she was good in the Act I duet with Macbeth and moving during the Sleepwalking Scene. Italian bass-baritone, Roberto Tagliavini, was a sonorous Banquo, and Joshua Guerrero employed his somewhat slender tenor voice movingly in Macduff’s Act IV aria, “Ah, la paterna mano.”
- The Staging. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the LA Opera Macbeth is director Darko Tresnjak’s staging. (Tresnjak is well known to San Diegans as the former Artistic Director of the Old Globe’s Shakespeare Festival from 2004 through 2009). This is despite the fact that the staging is largely traditional, with the singers in Medieval garb and using swords, not guns. The most unusual aspect of the production is the use of dancers as additional witches dressed in rat-tailed tights, that pop up in virtually every scene. At times, the back wall of the set turns into a rock-climbing gymnasium where the witches climb the walls. (The Program lists one Daniel Lyons as “Climbing Consultant”). It is obvious that Tresnjak is trying to emphasize Verdi’s point that the witches are an important character in the opera, but to me they were more distracting, if at times entertaining, than edifying.
On the other hand Tresnjak also heightened the drama with certain aspects of his staging. These included the Act I Macbeth/Lady duet, the Sleepwalking Scene, and Banquo’s appearance as a ghost in which he, rather than just sitting at a banquet table, walks into the party and in one case, grabs Macbeth’s chest from behind.
- Musical Highlights. This late-early-late-middle-Verdi opera contains numerous musical highlights, some of which were well presented in this production. Among my favorites were: (1) the Act I Duet between Macbeth/Lady Macbeth, (2) the Act I finale, a concertato of the principals plus chorus, (3) the Act II finale/concertato of principals plus chorus, (4) the Sleepwalking Scene (one of the greatest scenes in all Verdi), (5) the opening Act IV chorus (“Patria oppressa”), (6) Macduff’s aria, and (7) Macbeth’s aria mourning the lack of honor, love and respect that will come to him. These were well performed and well conducted by James Conlon. All of these made the opera well worth attending. In a good sing for opera in Los Angeles and in general, the production was well attended with many young people in the audience.