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Monday 13 June 2011

Verdi's Macbeth

Royal Opera House
Covent Garden

A short one.

Let me just say immediately that early Verdi is not at all my cup of tea: Bel Canto without the great tunes, virtuosity without it being remotely exciting, serious plots with inappropriately jolly accompaniment, characters not yet the fully formed creations of his maturity. In short it's where the clichés that cling to Verdi's music are to be found, everything that is used as a stick to beat him with.

Phyllida Lloyd's production (revival direction by Harry Fehr) has many fine ideas and nice moments, but taken as a totality is a dull evening. Nice touches include the famous dagger represented as a blade of light running across the set, and the witches' hidden agency in almost everything. The witches are in some ways the best bit of the whole show, certainly the most characterful, comedic and engaging aspect with their sense of fun, turbans and synchronised choreography. Where the production falters is in not providing the characters with any depth - too often we're left to fill in the blanks from our knowledge of the play. Keenlyside is of course a great Verdi baritone, but even he struggled to make a strong impression here. Monastyrska had almost nothing at all to offer in the acting department. It can't be denied that Verdi's opera is less dramatically effective than Shakespeare's play, but a good production, and borrowing ideas from the original can at least make it more viable than it seemed here. The set is meant to feel monolithic and dark, and superficially it is both of these things, but it isn't dramatic or atmospheric enough to really provide the starkness its meant to.

The singing was pretty decent throughout, though Keenlyside lacked the dramatic impact he often has - and it seemed to be a combination of not quite being at ease with the music (it's very difficult) and not being made enough of a feature of by the production.

What was extraordinary was Liudmyla Monastyrska's Lady Macbeth. As I have said, her acting is vestigial at best (we saw this in her last minute Aida step in last month), but the voice! Oh that voice!! It's an enormous sound, apparently effortlessly produced, but flexible enough to manage all the coloratura aspects of this role with relative ease. And not a hint of wobble. But it's not all just decibels (as I worried it might have been in Aida) - there's great dynamic range and control on show, pianissimos just as beautiful and rock solid as the stentorian outbursts. She's only now emerging as a star, and hopefully her acting will improve (history says these things rarely change though), but the voice is the thing, and she's destined for great things in that category. Surely Wagner awaits though apparently she has no plans there. She would make an incandescent Isolde, but there's still lots of time: she's only in her mid thirties, traditionally the beginning of the peak of a soprano's vocal prowess. Another great voice to watch.

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