Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Andriy Yurkevych
Shakespeare’s macabre King and persuasive wife get a dystopian 80s update in Oliver Mears’ chilling production with Welsh National Opera.
Originally performed by Northern Ireland Opera,Macbethtakes place in a contemporary but impoverished Scotland, mixing in real filmed footage of modern warfare throughout, and exploiting the Macbeths’ cold brutality as another totalitarian regime gone wrong – making for an uneasy, yet gritty experience.
Differing from Shakespeare’s famous first scene immediately, Verdi employs a chorus of witches, which, in this production, is split into three groups of differing, hideous styles, descending on the audience and Macbeth to prophesies his rise (and subsequent) fall. The effect is immediately creepy, one group with bald heads, the others bloody and hunchbacked, which creates plenty for an audience to engage with, particularly with the inventive choreography from Anna Morrissey.
This is the only time that first-night nerves are detected, with the choreography timing and energy a little off at first. One suspects that for some of the chorus that may be a little less mobile, this production was a difficult one to pull off. This is much improved upon in the second half, where the witches are thoroughly excellent in their second, more bloody prophecy – pulling apart babies’ limbs with gross relish.
The opera is tautly paced throughout, making for a compelling evening that feels far shorter than the three-hour running time, the orchestra coolly controlled by the excellent Andriy Yurkevych.
The singing, too, is impressive throughout the evening, but unfortunately not always matched in intensity with the acting performances. Very occasionally, the movement in arias feels a little stuck, with the motivation for completing a certain action a little forgotten in the music.
Luis Cansino delivers a rigorous and considered performance as the title role – increasingly tormented as his reign disintegrates. Mary Elizabeth Williams, who was a beautiful Tosca – fiery and vulnerable, a few seasons ago for WNO, creates a wholly different experience here as Lady Macbeth, a woman entirely in control of her fate – and of Macbeths. Her towering physicality dominates over her husband, which is effective, but it could have been improved with a little more vehemence and feistiness between the two conniving lovers throughout.
Lady Macbeth’s strength is made all the more effective by the character’s abrupt physical and mental demise in the fourth act, played here with a total dislocation from reality, rather than the maniac hand washing that is so often seen in Shakespeare. Williams’ voice is a rarity, absolutely pure, yet rich, and thrilling to listen to here in both Lady Macbeth’s abject misery and joy.
Macbethprovides some excellent singing and a staging that will only improve with the run, a bloody treat for all who attend.
Runsuntil23 November 2016 | Image: Richard Hubert Smith