DramaReviewSouth West

WNO: Macbeth – Bristol Hippodrome

Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Adriy Yurkevych
Reviewer: Kris Hallett

The King is Dead! Long live the King! Just like in the Shakespearean telling, Verdi’s operatic version of the Scottish play sticks close to the parallel journeys its protagonists go on, Macbeth from unsure war hero to despotic dictator and his wife from cold-eyed pragmatist to tragic heroine. Just like the play itis basedon, it builds in cumulative and chilling power, building in tension, tempo and power, a musical drama that stands comparison (if arguably a step below) Shakespeare’s original tale of tyrants and witchcraft.

tell-us-block_editedWelsh National Opera’s production, originally seen at Northern Ireland Opera underthe direction ofincumbentROHartistic director OliverMear, locates the world of the action, somewhere between the garb and the feel of the Edinburgh military tattoo and the images so familiar, even today, of a Yugoslavia torn apart by civil war back in the early 90s. This concept is less intrusive than it originally sounds, theregietheaterkept to aminimumto allow the music and singers to do the heavy lifting.

Andby and largewhat singing this is. The MVP is without doubt Mary Elizabeth Williams, who imbues her Lady Macbeth with sass and a physical presence that both dominates her more reserved husband and threatens to overshadow everyone else around her. Her voice at points soars, her incantations to the creatures of the night chilling and herfinalsleepwalkingscene, where sheexeuntsstage left with a high A that almost shakes the roof is undoubtedly the musical highlight of the night. Her husband in comparison can’t compete, though is solid enough without raising the audience’s collective blood pressure. Miklós Sebestyén is better as Banquo, his tone brooding, a voice that suggests a hero in waiting if fate had dealt him a better hand. There are also telling vocal contributions from Miriam Murphy – who will play Lady Macbeth for the rest of this run on tour – and Bruce Sledge, who works wonders with his one aria as the mourning Macduff.

Yet, as so often when writing aboutWNO, one can’t help but end by raving about the Chorus. Okay, so in the witches coven, some move with more enthusiasm and ability than others but the sound they makeshould belisted as one of the wonders of the world. At the climax of Act 1, as they sing a lament for the assassinated King, there is little option but to close your eyes and bask in the wonders of the human voice. Without the chorus and a striking Lady Macbeth, it would be not much more than a workmanlike evening but, while they are on stage, the evening soars.

Runs until 23 November 2016 | Image:Richard Hubert Smith

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