MacBeth - Giuseppe Verdi - Royal Opera House - Covent Garden

What an evening I have experienced! ! The body of Duncan, King of Scotland, lying in stage with so much blood I had to cover my mouth to stop myself from screeching waaa!!! !!! ! ! That ketchup (or whatever they used) looked so much like blood it was amazing! I was impressed. And what a story! They call it Verdi's Scottish Opera. The opera is actually set in Scotland and on the borders of England, and is based on Shakespeare's play. Verdi concentrates on two main characters: Lady Macbeth and Macbeth. There were also witches, whom I thoroughly enjoyed; they predict that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland after he kills the present King Duncan. Macbeth wasn't a rich man and Lady Macbeth drives him to murder for power and money. Still not happy she convinces him to kill Banquo, who would eventually be the father of all future kings of Scotland (as predicted by the witches). Banquo is murdered, but his ghost returns to haunt Macbeth, which drives him to insanity. Lady Macbeth is a repellent character, who has lost her mind on goes on sleepwalking like a Shakespeare "Sleeping Beauty". Later, she is horrified by what she has instigated and she dies. Macduff, who was the greatest threat to Macbeth and who was not born naturally, but rather "untimely ripp'd" from his mother's womb, leads his troops to murder Macbeth. After Macbeth is killed Macduff proclaims Malcolm, the son of King Duncan, the rightful heir to the throne.

Macbeth is thought to be the first masterpiece of Verdi. When the production arrived in Naples, Verdi was very insistent that Lady Macbeth should be ugly and sing with a hard, stifled, dark voice - the voice of the devil, which meant character before beauty. But the singer Tadlini was beautiful and sang with perfection. The original Lady Macbeth was Mariana Barieri-Nini (1820-87); she practised her sleepwalking scene for three months to meet Verdi's exacting standards. Macbeth was first written for the Teatre della Pergola in Florence, when Verdi was 32 years old. Felice Varesi (1813-89) played the first Macbeth. Varesi has noted that this opera was "too foreign, too obviously in the fantastical genre, too artist and too modern." However, Macbeth was Verdi's favourite opera.

The Libretto was by Francesco Maria Piave and Andrea Maffei and was written after the Shakespearean play. Verdi wrote about Shakespeare after some people said they didn't know much about him." He is a favourite poet of mine, whom I had in hand from my earliest young, and whom I read and reread constantly." (said Verdi). (The French version in 1865 was with new text by Charles Nuitter and A. Beaumont. )In 1847 Verdi presented three operas in eight months - Macbeth in Firense, I Masnadieri at her Majesty's Theatre in London, and Jerusalem in Paris. The version I saw at Covent Garden was the one performed in 1865. This co-production was scheduled for ROH in 1997, but for logistic and technical reasons was delayed until today and opened as a joint venture with the Bastille Opera, which was opened in Paris in 1998. This is an all-female production. The Director was Phyllida Lloyd, who is famous for theatre production at the Nation Theatre for operas such as The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Way of the World. For the Almeida she has produced Dona Rosita, The Spinster, and, of course, the well-known Mamma Mia! - which was a huge success in London's West End and on Broadway. She says, "Doing it at all was a huge miracle that just landed in my lap. It has taken me all over the world. Now I want to get on and do those less-lucrative theatre things its success enables me to do." She has become one of the finest opera directors since the staging of Britain's Gloriana at the Opera North and since the production of an award-winning TV film, for which she won an Emmy.

Macbeth is a difficult opera to direct - metaphysics and psychology, apparition and reality are confused. Macbeth is surrounded by hissing witches, asleep on separate beds from the Lady, while oppressed Scottish refuges invade their chamber, while singing Verdi's Patria Oppress! . Lloyd makes great use of the crack of light from Duncan's bedroom door; we see Banquo's ghost once and Macbeth sees him twice. I love this bold staging; I love the colours, the dresses, the designs (by Anthgony Ward), the lighting (by Paul Constable), and the choreography (by Michael Keegna-Dolan). The witches' ballet full of colour and faces that looked like hell was amazing.

Maria Guleghina played Lady Macbeth. Maria was born in Odessa and made her debut at La Scala in 1987. Her repertory consists of more than 26 roles the most noted being Tosca, Lady Macbeth, Aida, Norma, Manon Lescaut, Oberto, Otello, Nabucco, II Tabarro and Andrea Chenier. For this Macbeth she was formidable, together with the British baritone, Anthony Michaels as Macbeth. There is a scene where they are both dressed in gold and Macbeth loses his mind at the coronation feast (there was not a banquet, but they were the only ones with glasses drinking to their power). The night would have pleased Verdi as it did me.

The other female concerned with the production of Macbeth was the conductor, Simone Young. She was born in Sydney and made her debut with the Australian Opera in 1985; she and her family now live in Sussex, England (but they have a house in Sydney too). She conducted the orchestra with great care and the chorus was absolutely the best! She is in much demand at the opera houses around the world. In fact, at the moment she is preparing for Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera and for her debut with Placido Domingo in Puccini's La Fanciulla del West. Next season she will produce Berg's Lulu. As the Artist and Music Director at the Opera Australia, she had aroused controversy and the headline in the newspaper was, "Woman Conductors Take Over Down Under". (the Melbourne opera season invited more woman conductors than men with American conductors such as Karen Kamensek and Julia de Plater and the English conductor at the Cologne Opera, as well as Jane Glover and Sian Edwards. Simone Young says, "A lot of what we view as resistance to women on the podium is actually nothing to do with musicians. It's a perception of the people viewing it from the outside, be they management, board or audience; envisaging what the problems might be. If singers and instrumentalists have someone in front of them who is capable of encouraging them to play in a slightly different way, approach a piece in from a different angle, then their job is more interesting and challenging. But conducting professionally is a tough life. I've spent far too much time away from my family and that's hard on them, on me and on my husband. I can't deny that this career needs emotional strength, and maybe some woman aren't prepared to make those sacrifices in their personal life." She was the first female to conduct at the renowned musical institution, the Vienna State Opera (in 1993), the Opera Batille in Paris, Munich, Hamburg and Tokyo. She was also the first woman to conduct in the "Holiest of Holy" Brucknerhaus in Linz. She says, "I'm only 41, but I was fortunate in achieving so many of my goals quickly. I am a perfectionist, and I drive myself hard and probably most of the people around me, too." She goes scuba diving and she is a cricket fan; she even escaped from rehearsals of Macbeth to watch her eldest daughter, Yvann, play cricket. AHHHH!!!


Verinha Ottoni.


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