2009, Vienna, Macbeth



Composer : Guiseppe Verdi
Librettist : Piave after Shakespeare’s tragedy
Venue and Dates : Vienna Staatsoper
7, 10, 13, 16, 21, 26 December
Conductor : Guillermo Garcia Calvo (replacing Daniele Gatti)
Production : Vera Nemirova
Performers :
Macbeth: Simon Keenlyside
Banquo: Stefan Kocan
Lady Macbeth: Erika Sunnegardh
Macduff: Dimitri Pittas
Notes : New production



Oliver Schneider, Drehpunktkultur, 9 December 2009

Translated by Petra Habeth

Stroller going astray

Vera Nemirova had not thought the response to her second debut in the house on the ring to be thus. First demonstrations of disapproval came already after the witches’ chorus in the first act, as the dashing ladies like Léhar’s grisettes danced a cancan.

But that was only the beginning. Vera Nemirova and her outfitter John Leiacker let their Verdi take place from the start in the forest of Birnam in which there is also a vaudeville stage. Whose meaning doesn’t reveal itself until the third act. The complete Paris version of 1865 is played, including the ballet music – and that is a premiere at the Staatsoper. But it is not danced, instead the ladies of the extras re-enact the bloody history of Scotland. The whole thing would fit perfectly if it had been implemented less amateurishly. Additionally one can not help thinking of Peter Konwitschny imaging of the Don Carlos-ballet music in the same house. Worlds lie in between.

Of course the production team has moved the dark action into today. The usual dinner party in black robes and with a film camera, when Macbeth learns of his appointment as Thane of Cawdor, seems to be necessary. Two joggers announce the arrival of her husband with King Duncan to the blonde lady. In the shower the Lady and Macbeth then try to wash the blood off their hands after the first murder. Interesting in Nemirova’s approach is that Macbeth is not simply characterized as a passive instrument of the power-mad lady, but the two are described in their quest for power as equal. This lusting lets them grow together as a pair of lovers.

Also interesting is what Nemirova came up with for the murder of Banquo. A crowd of clowns surrounds Banquo and his son, and weighs them in a false security. Not even the blood-red balloons can set alarm bells ringing in Banquo. Gory it goes on when Macbeth, when he is haunted by the spirit of Banquo in his own house, lets innocent men be shot as alleged killers from behind.

Whether intended or not there was something to laugh at this evening.: when the lady after the second witch scene takes a machine gun off the stroller and it threatens in straight course to fall into the orchestra pit, until it was sent by Macbeth (Simon Keenlyside) with a violent kick in the far corner of the stage. For this he earned spontaneous applause.

Overall this evening remains despite some good points just patchwork. The reason is that Vera Nemirova (she will direct Berg’s “Lulu” next summer in Salzburg), only strings her ideas together and forgoes a consistent person characterization and guidance. This becomes especially noticeable on a singer like Keenlyside, who for once scores only vocally, with his well-fitting Baritone which is quite able to dramatic attacks. For him the opening night on Monday evening was at the same time the debut in his fourth Verdi role.

A double debut was this evening for Erika Sunnegårdh, in the house and as the Lady. She made a decent attempt on Monday at struggling through the demanding part and proved that a Lady Macbeth is allowed to sing with noblesse. More disturbing than her problems at the end of the sleepwalking scene were her immovable coloratura and her tendency to sharpen in the high notes. The partial expressions of dissatisfaction from the public, however, were far overstated, as after all, Sunnegårdh had given as the increasingly mad lady in the sleepwalking scene the most impressive presentation this evening.

A house debut also for Dimitri Pittas as Macduff. Amazing that he elated the audience with his steady voice and his continuous Mezzoforte. The other minor roles are adequately staffed in accordance with the standard of the house. Equally able to convince was the choir rehearsed by Thomas Lang.

Daniele Gatti was originally planned as conductor, who had to cancel at short notice, like Kirill Petrenko in the first season premiere. Unlike Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk,” this time no prominent understudy was available. Instead director Holender won House Conductor Guillermo García Calvo who succeeded most recently at the Deutsche Oper Berlin with Rossini. Calvo has the stage and the State Opera Orchestra under control and provides a sound interpretation of the score. Experienced with small uncertainties the musicians followed but in total some more swing and more drama out of the orchestra pit was wanted. For one of only four new production premieres, this new production offers scenically and musically clearly not enough.


Gert Korentschnig, Kurier, 8 December 2009


Translated by Petra Habeth

Opera-goers will be talking about this premiere for a long time – it is rare to see and hear something that fails like this.

Now, your reviewer has really thought for a long time about what we might find to praise in this premiere of Verdi’s “Macbeth” at the Vienna State Opera. So:  the occasional costume, the occasional sound from the orchestra pit. The baritone Simon Keenlyside – although he is better off in dozens of other parts. The prompt start time … That’s it. Even with the best intentions I cannot find more.

A scene was symptomatic of the whole evening: During a duet between Macbeth and his lady a pram, in which the lady had brought a gun onto the stage, became independent. This began to roll towards musicians, and Keenlyside had to repel it several times. Eventually, he got hot under the collar and he kicked against the pram, with all his hatred, so that it ended up in the corner. The audience gave thunderous applause and thus documented their intensely vehement dislike of the junk on the stage. If Keenlyside’s kick was not a self-depreciating idea from the director – which should be doubted – it was a credible payback for an entirely botched production. Probably the worst of the last 20 years.

The big flop

Problem number 1: The conductor. Guillermo Garcia Calvo stepping in for Daniele Gatti, has not met the minimum requirements of a musical director of a new State Opera production. You do not even know where to begin the criticism. With the tempo? With the lack of differentiation? In the dull design? In the coordination between the chorus and orchestra?

Problem number 2: Vera Nemirova’s production. The director shows the witches as artists in a world of the military – but why? The spiritual meetings on the stage are ridiculous. The Scottish King Duncan, who is murdered by Macbeth to ascend the throne itself, is shown as a fool, gets naked into the Lady’s bubble bath and goes to bed with his companion. Later dead children get up in order to proceed from the stage – with such painful actions that Nemirova provoked involuntary laughter. This production is not too modern, but too banal, too childish, mistrusting Verdi and Shakespeare and a senseless provocation of the audience. This goes so far that in the first duet, between Macbeth and his Lady, the shower is running. Again you mourn the late Jürgen Gosch who should have been the director.

Only one top singer

Problem No. 3: The singers. Stefan Kocan is a mediocre -Banquo, Dimitri Pittas a plain Macduff – the audience was so grateful that they even applauded him vigorously. Erika Sunnegårdh as Lady Macbeth has a few shrill high notes, but far too few in the middle position. For an important opera premiere this singer is not adequate for this part. Simon Keenlyside has a fantastically beautiful baritone – but for Macbeth, he is not dangerous enough.

A theatrical wisdom says that “Macbeth” often brings singers and actors bad luck. QED.

Conclusion: The worst Premiere for a long time

The work: Verdi’s opera based on Shakespeare (libretto by Francesco Maria Piave) was premiered in 1847 in Florence.

The conductor: not adequate for an opera premiere

The director:  Uninteresting, lost her way completely.

The singer: Simon Keenlyside (Macbeth) produces a considerable performance – but only vocally.


From Adn.Es


Translated by Marion Peball

Cheering and booing at the premiere of the new production of Verdi’s “Macbeth” in Vienna

The public of the Opera of Vienna today accepted – divided with cheering, applause and booing – the premiere of a new production of “Macbeth” by Giuseppe Verdi, in the production of Vera Nemirova and the musical direction of the Spanish Guillermo García Calvo.

The presented production did not convince the major part of the Viennese audience, which punished the Bulgarian theatrical director, who tried to offer an interpretation slightly more avant-garde than the traditional Viennese public could accept, with continuous booing.

The staging, concentrating on the trees of the forest of Birnam, on several occasions caused boos and laughter from some sectors of the audience, which were not convinced by Nemirova’s approach in this history of ambition and tyranny based on the well-known drama of William Shakespeare.

Nemirova updated the plot and moved the action to our epoch, with barren and dark scenery which seemed to reflect the darks soul of the protagonists, but, between other things, the vision of a “Lady Macbeth” with a Kalashnikov gun in her hands did not seem to persuade the spectators.

The murderers of Banquo are portrayed like mysterious men with coats and a red balloon in the hand, and the witches who blur the mind of Macbeth are artists and journalists. And concluding the regicide that will unleash a hurricane of violence, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth sing under the water of a real shower.

The audience proved to be much more satisfied with Guillermo García Calvo, the first Spanish director conducting a premiere in the Opera of Vienna, and the first rewarded with applause, although also some isolated boo resounded.

The 31-year-old musician took up the reins of the premiere of the opera in four acts, of which Verdi left in writing that it was his favourite, for the abandonment of Daniele Gatti due to illness.

García Calvo has already told ‘EFE’ (the author) before the premiere, that the audience would boo the scenography because the interpretation could irritate the public of Vienna, “which is quite traditional”.

The British baritone Simon Keenlyside, who interpreted Macbeth, received the longest and warmest applause of the night for a notable interpretation, above the rest of the cast.

The Swedish – American soprano Erika Sunnegardh, as Lady Macbeth, got applause and also boos, while Stefan Kocán personifying Banquo, and Dimitri Pittas as Macduff, were accurate but did not cause big enthusiasm.

Below are links to the other German reviews of Macbeth. Translations will appear as soon as possible.




2010 Macbeth Vienna Opera

Christopher Norton-Welsh, Opera, March 2010

At a recent indifferent performance of Verdi’s Macbeth during the Enescu Festival in Bucharest, the director loan Holender was asked what the forthcoming Vienna Staasoper production (opening on December 7), would be like. His answer: ‘Not like this!’ He was right, but not as he meant it. Looking for a replacement for the deceased Jürgen Gosch, he chose Vera Nemirova. He should have known better. This was generally considered the worst Staatsoper production for many a long year, and to list all of its misconceived ideas would be tedious. The Witches, always a problem, were society ladies, action painters and half-naked nymphs in their first scene, and clad in black slips and bathrobes for their second. The rare ballet music was conceived as part of their Sabbath, with chaotic and totally irrelevant action. Verily, ‘a deed without a name’. The murderers wore red noses and carried red balloons, one of which they gave to Fleance when they revealed themselves during Banquo’s aria. Randomly selected Guests were gunned down after the banquet. Worst of all, Lady Macbeth died at the end of her sleep-walking scene and remained for ‘Pieta, rispetto, amore’, which ended with her husband cradling her corpse before her death was announced. The corpse itself was then carried out during Macbeth’s call to arms. Modern dress from Johannes Leiacker was the order of the day, and Duncan’s retinue included the stage band and kilted nobles dancing reel steps. Leiacker’s almost permanent set evoked trees blasted by acid rain and a tawdry stage proscenium, which was fine for the apparitions-the kings all killing their predecessors-but little else.

Another casualty was the conductor Daniele Gatti (due to illness) and Guillermo Garcia Calvo, a house coach with little experience in the pit, was given the thankless task of taking over at short notice. Despite the orchestra often being too loud and some wayward tempos, at the performance on December 21 Calvo acquitted himself well. The same could not be said of Erika Sunnegardh as Lady Macbeth. Often inaudible, with sketchy coloratura and little expression, she left one wondering at her impressive career so far. As Banquo, Stefan Kocan offered a loud, ugly sound and scant imagination. Dimitri Pittas’s Macduff was also loud, but hardly rose above provincial. The best singing among the principals came from Simon Keenlyside as a very lyrical Macbeth, but all his sensitivity to words and fine acting could not disguise the fact that he lacks the big guns for this role. However, the chorus was excellent as usual, and the veteran Alfred Sramek gave pleasure in the tiny role of the Doctor.

Gerhard Persché, Opernwelt,2/2010

Translation will follow as soon as possible

“Aufregung um Verdis «Macbeth» an der Wiener Staatsoper … Genau so legen Nemirova und Simon Keenlyside den zum König avancierten verdienten Parteigänger Macbeth an. Keenlyside sucht die Rolle klug zu gestalten, muss freilich häufig forcieren und seinen vokalen Raum bis zur Grenze ausloten. … ”

M.Lehnert, Das Opernglas, 1/2010

Translation will follow as soon as possible

“… Darauf rnuss man sich freilich einlassen, und auch für die Sänger gilt es, sich bedingungslos mit dem Konzept zu identifizieren. Für Simon Keenlyside nach einem beispiellosen Schauspielmarathon, mit dem von Anfang an eine immer weiter anwachsende vokale Prachtentfaltung einherging, bietet Macbeths wachsende Frustration eine Steilvorlage: Sex und Macht bedingen einander, und wenn das Ergebnis des Sex keinen Nachwuchs zeitigt, ist die Macht unweigerlich verloren. Der virile Bariton mit unendlich scheinenden Atemreserven ist zu bislang von keinem anderen Rollenvertreter als Piero Cappuccilli gehörten Phrasierungskunststücken in der Lage. Ein gelungenes Rollendebüt, das durch das kluge Vermeiden jeglichen Forcierens zum persönlichen Triumph geriet und in Nemirovas Rollencharakterisierung der Figur in ihrer bisher sprichwörtlichen Blässlichkeit auch die stimmliche Titeltauglichkeit verlieh.  …”

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