Review: Verdi’s Macbeth

Bruno Caproni is most effective in Macbeth’s dying moments

Bruno Caproni is most effective in Macbeth’s dying moments

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Verdi’s Macbeth
Grand Opera House, Belfast
***

NI Opera’s Macbeth , sung in English, opens with a distinctive front-cloth featuring a bloodied but crowned waif, hinting at the poster for Les Misérables . It’s that layering of troubled worlds that artistic director Oliver Mears and designer Annemarie Woods bring to this co-production with Welsh National Opera. A utilitarian 1960s civic entrance hall provides the set, sometimes with an office desk and chair, sometimes with animal heads on the walls to suggest the castle.

Death by a plastic bag over the head confirms this as a modern setting. A memorial wall of 200 photographs, a hint of Imelda Marcos with her shoes, and witches dismembering dolls, chime in with the real world of Scottish independence, Ukraine, and troubles nearer home.

And then there is Verdi. Rachel Nicholls as Lady Macbeth is technically confident in every aspect of his demanding writing. An initial shrillness at the top of her voice soon disappears and the brindisi (drinking song) and sleepwalking scene are highlights, while the character remains cold and aloof.

Baritone Bruno Caproni as Macbeth is initially unfocused, but gradually finds a clearer vocal line. He is most effective in his dying moments, after the rather farcical fight with Macduff. Despite Lady Macbeth’s unbecoming dress at the start, she is soon literally wearing the trousers, and Macbeth’s personality never recovers. For a power-hungry and kilted king, he lacks get-up-and-go.

Not so the two tenors: Aaron Cawley as Malcolm, and Andrew Rees as Macduff. They take ownership of their roles, singing with conviction and personality. It is a shame that John Molloy as Banquo has problems tuning in to the orchestra in his big Act I aria.

The evening belongs to the youthful chorus: such energy and vibrancy. The witches, minus beards, are superbly choreographed. The men, whether as woollen-hatted Gorbals thugs or with their partners at a civilised social dinner, are equally good. This promises much for the future.

Conductor Nicholas Chalmers maintains a steadying hand and good rapport between stage and pit, coaxing lovely textures from the Ulster Orchestra.
 

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