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2011, Royal Opera House, Macbeth


2011 Macbeth ROH 01

Composer : Guiseppe Verdi
Librettist : Piave after Shakespeare’s tragedy
Venue and Dates : Royal Opera House, London

24, 27,30 May and  3,6,10, 13,15, 18 June  2011
Conductor : Antonio Pappano
Production :
Phyllida Lloyd
Performers :
Macbeth: Simon Keenlyside
Banquo: Raymond Aceto
Lady Macbeth: Liudmyla Monastyrska
Macduff: Dimitri Pittas
Malcolm: Steven Ebel
Lady-in-waiting:  Elisabeth Meister
Doctor: Lukas Jakobski

Notes : The performance of 13 June will be “
Live in cinemas across the world”.  Click here to find a cinema nearby


Production photos by Clive Barda/ROH; Curtain call photos by intermezzo.typepad.com


Barry Millington, The Evening Standard, 25 May 2011

Conventional witches are hard to come by in Macbeth these days. But in Phyllida Lloyd’s staging of Verdi’s opera, newly revived at Covent Garden, there’s a plethora of the creatures.

Nattily attired in vermilion headscarves, they are a ubiquitous presence: one helps Banquo’s son Fleance escape; others appear as scene-shifters.

At the end they look down on Malcolm as though to suggest that not even the untainted new regime will be free of their baleful presence.

It’s an interesting idea, as is that of the onstage transformation of the guests at the banquet, with shawls and blankets, into a crowd of dispossessed refugees. The elegiac Patria Oppressa, delivered poignantly by the ROH Chorus, is all the more moving as a result. Just to make everything worse, it even starts to snow.

Nothing quite sets the pulse racing, yet thinking has evidently gone into characterisation, too.

Singing the title role with power but never hectoring, Simon Keenlyside constructs a subtle portrait of a tyrannical murderer consumed by torment. Liudmyla Monastyrska’s Lady Macbeth is similarly well judged. The glint in her eye and the steel in her voice may make clear that she’s a force to be reckoned with but the cultivated quality of her tone suggests a more complex figure than a conventional villainess.

Raymond Aceto’s gravelly-voiced Banquo has an ominous eloquence, while Dimitri Pittas seizes the moment with an impassioned lament for his murdered wife and children. Antonio Pappano’s conducting catches the darkness beneath the jaunty surface.

The performance on June 13 will be broadcast live into more than 450 cinemas around the world.

Hugo Shirley, musicalcriticism.com, 25 May 2011

In her programme essay for the Royal Opera’s revival of Phyllida Lloyd’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth (here performed in its revised 1865 version), Mary Jane Phillips lists the scenic requirements that were to make the Florence premiere of the opera’s first version such a challenge. The list includes ‘castles, a cave, a heath, a forest, a battlefield, a “magic” chair for Banquo’s ghost, trap doors, a cauldron set over a fire, thunder, lightning and a “phantasmagoria” ‘. A production that slavishly adhered to these requirements would, no doubt, be dismissed as hopelessly unimaginative – and, in all probability, rightly so – but it’s a list that emphasises the need for at least some theatrical flair and variety. Lloyd’s production, first seen in 2002, delivers only the most fleeting glimpses of the former, and a depressing lack of the latter.

In Anthony Ward‘s designs the action is encased within dark grey bunker of bulky reinforced tiles. Two walls running across the stage – one at the back and one half-way down the stage – can be left down to increase the sense of claustrophobia or opened up to reveal ominous wintry clouds. A golden cage in the form of a cube provides a somewhat obvious metaphor for self-imposed psychological imprisonment. It is sometimes set spinning, sometimes left to move purposefully up and down the stage. That’s about it, though, and as the opera unfurled the lack of variety became rather trying.

The set allows a welcome fluidity to scene changes (the advantage, I suppose, of not actually changing the scene), and did, occasionally, provide moments of theatricality, such as when it enabled shards of bright light to cut across the stage for Macbeth’s address to the dagger; but these were far too few. Many of the effects were half-hearted: Banquo’s appearance at the non-existent dinner, the bare sticks of Birnam Wood, or the unthreatening clippety-clop horses carrying the apparitions of Banquo’s line. The earnest attempt to make the witches genuinely sinister through mad gesticulation rendered their choruses camper than ever (red headdresses and mono-brows also made them look like two dozen deranged Frida Kahlos), while a desire to demonstrate the Macbeth’s newly won wealth saw them hampered by ridiculous, rustly bling. Revival director Harry Fehr hasn’t managed to galvanise the cast as one might have hoped, either; each singer, it seemed, was rather left to his or her own devices.

If the production did little to draw you into the unfurling drama, however, the musical side of the performance was often compelling. Antonio Pappano tried to weigh the opera’s very first bars with a little too much gravitas, perhaps, but once he got going he conducted Verdi’s score with a tangible sense of drama and fire. I wondered on several occasions if there was anyone better at bringing the composer’s accompanimental figures – no great shakes on the page – to vibrant life. He elicited excellent playing from the ROH orchestra, and, often with the help of the ROH chorus on great form, produced some glorious climaxes.

Liudmyla Monstyrska, having stepped in as a last-minute replacement in Aida a couple of months ago, here made an even stronger impression as Lady Macbeth, the part that was originally scheduled to be her Royal Opera debut. The role’s slightly lower tessitura suited her better and there was no sign of the understandable nerves of her Aida. Here her voice often sounded sensational: powerful, dark in the middle range; free, rich and surprisingly agile high up. She’s not the most compelling actress, perhaps, but this voice is the real deal, negotiating the extremes of this tortuous role with fearless abandon. Simon Keenlyside does not, one seems duty-bound to point out, tick all the usual Verdi baritone boxes (who does these days?). There are, of course, times when you want him to be able to assert himself over proceedings with a leonine roar, or launch a phrase with endless legato, but the voice seems more and more at home in the repertoire, and makes up in focus much of what it lacks in decibels.

We also have from him intelligent acting, unfailing musicianship and a voice that has no problems with the tessitura. It seemed, though, that the production (or a recently injured arm) kept him from plumbing the emotional depths possible in the role. We were a bit short on chemistry between him and Monstyrska, too, but this will probably develop as the run progresses.

The rest of the cast supported the leading couple ably. Raymond Aceto made a noble Banquo, and if his bass lacks a solid, dark core, he employs it generously, rolling out one pleasing phrase after another. Dimitri Pittas made a great sound in his brief appearances as Macduff, but was a touch overwrought with a tendency to push sharp.

This revival is worth catching, then, for Pappano’s conducting and Monastyrska’s Lady Macbeth alone, and Keenlyside brings all the qualities one expects to the title role. Musically there are some excellent things; as theatre, however, it’s hardly satisfying.

Edward Seckersen, The Independent, 25 May 2011

Phyllida Lloyd’s 2002 staging of Verdi’s Macbeth is prematurely looking like a parody of itself – an exhibit in one of designer Anthony Ward’s gilded display cases.

But it’s sounding rather terrific in this second revival and before we actually see the shrieking and cackling hags of Verdi’s prelude – a bizarrely choreographed red-turbaned chorus line – Antonio Pappano has rendered them, along with the blood and thunder of brassy premonitions, in high-definition. And that, one presumes, is how it will be relayed live into cinemas across the nation and the world on 13 June.

Pappano’s presence on the podium lifts the whole occasion and his relish, rhythmically and texturally, for this most exciting and experimental of scores gives it tremendous immediacy. It sounds new; it just doesn’t look it – though aspects of Lloyd’s direction are bold and true: like the use of the witches as agents of plot development – like ferrying Macbeth’s letter from the battlefield to his wife’s pillow. And there is one startlingly effective moment when we are shown the Macbeth family that might have been – replete with its brood of happy offspring – before the marital bed is split in two and we see them for what they are: loveless, childless, alienated.

Casting-wise the power behind the throne is something that Verdi went all-out to nail and to say that the abundantly talented Liudmyla Monastyrska takes no prisoners is something of an understatement. She devours her entrance aria like it’s something she does each day to warm up and rarely will you hear a voice dominating the ensembles in this way: she crowned that roar of outrage at the discovery of Duncan’s murder, “Hell open wide and swallow all creation”, with startling power. She won’t need a cinema relay – you’ll hear her in Aberdeen.

But, as we heard in her Aida, she doesn’t shirk the more finessed markings and coloratura and though the sleepwalking scene was not her best singing of the evening she almost managed the wicked piano D-flat at the close. Of course, her school of acting could not be further removed from Simon Keenlyside whose sonorous vocal production and really grateful legato is what Verdi baritone roles are all about. But then Verdi took his power-crazed Lady M to the cusp of recklessness and provided Monastyrska continues to curb her “chesting” and not sing the role too often then she could still be singing it in 10 years time. Hopefully not, though, in this production.

George Hall, The Stage, 25 May 2011

On June 13, the Royal Opera’s Macbeth will be screened live in 450 cinemas worldwide, from Austria to the USA, including nearly 90 in the UK – such is the success of this vital initiative in the company’s engagement with wider audiences.

Phyllida Lloyd’s 2002 staging, here revived by Harry Fehr, remains unsatisfactory. Lloyd’s big idea is about children – the Macbeths are childless, though fantasise about having them – as if this in itself explained their steady descent into nationwide violence. Worse are the ugliness of Anthony Ward’s costumes and the grotesque (in the wrong way) presentation of the witches, who are onstage far too often. The intervention of Banquo’s ghost is singularly ineffective.

Yet musically this revival goes with a bang under the idiomatic baton of Antonio Pappano, and the singing ranges from the good to the excellent. We get an unusual edition of the score, which presents both the endings Verdi wrote – the original solo scene of 1847 followed by the revised choral version of 1865 – though Simon Keenlyside’s scrupulously sung Macbeth justifies this odd procedure. He may not persuade that he has an ideal coloristic range for the part, but his musicianship is extraordinary and his vocal acting intelligent.

Russian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska astonishes with the accomplishment of her singing, nailing just about every single note in the difficult score. She’s a more limited actress, however. Raymond Aceto’s Banquo and Dimitri Pittas’ Macduff are both on the loud and unsubtle side. Yet all in all, enough of the score hits home to make this a worthwhile evening, despite the visuals.

Hilary Finch, The Times,26.5.2011

Not until this second revival has the Royal Opera’s Macbeth really discovered its true self. And that’s quite simply because it has finally found its Macbeth. It’s as though Phyllida Lloyd’s bold, confident and compelling production (now directed faithfully by Harry Fehr) has been waiting all of nine years for the arrival of Simon Keenlyside (below with Liudmyla Monastyrska) . The English baritone, singing on the top of his form, is one of the most complex and complete Macbeths you are likely to experience in a lifetime. Cliche and preconception are swept aside. Keenlyside has penetrated Macbeth’s entire nerve system and the far reaches of his soul as thoroughly as the composer did himself.

This is a world of pre-echoed and pre-ordained prophecies: Macbeth is already washing his hands in the first scene, Lady Macbeth having her bath prepared. And the scarlet turbaned witches both violently and tenderly facilitate every move in this stark black and white world.

Keenlyside’s is a long journey — from slightly bent, diffident searcher, already sensitive, in his bleached nocturnal tones, to the awe of the unknown — to false belief which leads to total isolation and loss. You can almost feel his tortured silent thinking throughout. And his great Act IV aria, Pieta, rispetto, amore, is one of the great moments in this opera’s recent performing history.

Keenlyside meets his match in this Lady Macbeth. The Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska, making her debut in the role with the Royal Opera, is as secure of voice — a towering, resonant dramatic soprano, capable of anything — as of purpose. But, as the drama progresses, we hear a fluttering tremor as her voice creeps through Verdi’s hushed writing for her.

Monastyrska bares the chill left behind when the milk of human kindness has been drained away.

The production, with its bright, barren moonlight and its gilded cages of kingship, has also been lying in wait for Antonio Pappano, who conducts as though he is in impassioned love with every note of the score, and doubtless is. Verdi and his singers are totally understood here. There’s not a weak link in the cast. Raymond Aceto’s true bass of a Banquo is a formidable presence, alive and dead. Dimitri Pittas makes a more than impressive house debut in the role of Macduff, and Steven Ebel, Jette Parker Young Artist, is a movingly reluctant yet vocally assured future King Malcolm.

Stephen Jay-Taylor,Opera Britannia, 25.5.2011

Phyllida Lloyd’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth was first seen at the ROH in 2002, though its genesis goes back at least a further five years, to the period just before the old house’s closure in 1997, when it was due on as the last new production due to be seen as part of the Verdi Festival that was being given during that season (and when are we ever going to see Philip Prowse’s strikingly impressive Giovanna d’Arco from it again, pray?). Something went very wrong – the official line was scheduling problems, though I think it was money – and Macbeth was cancelled, though I believe it subsequently fetched up in Paris, which may well account for the uncharacteristically lavish opulence of the endless large-scale gilded props and costumes which pepper the show’s progress. Oddly enough, by the – not particularly extended – time it did finally appear at Covent Garden, it had a vaguely indefinable look of old-hat about it: nine years on, and parts of it look positively antique, far more so than the previous 1981 staging by Elijah Moshinsky ever did, right up to its premature swan-song in 1988 (it was a technically complex show, set up the most enormous flight of stage-filling polygonal stairs you ever saw).

Now, “old-hat” and “antique” are not necessarily terms of abuse in this quarter: they may indeed be sometimes taken to refer approvingly, with something approaching aching nostalgia, to stagings that date from an era when opera directors knew their place in the operatic scheme of things – rightfully subordinate – and simply got on with the task in hand, rather than treating the work as an excuse for psychologically murky self-exposure as well as  extraneous, irrelevant critical commentary best left to programme essays. Lloyd by and large eschewed this approach – odd in itself, because it almost entirely defined her egregious ENO Ring – and pretty much confined her “innovations” to what was little more than a by-product of a cleverly-designed set (Antony Ward) that allows scenes to flow continuously into one another by means of smooth stage transformations. Even so, and whilst I more-or-less appreciate the obviation of creaking intervals – or much, much worse, the dreaded “short pause”, though one survives here between Acts I and II, where there really should be an interval – I do not care for a dramaturgy that leaves the Macbeths on stage, fast asleep in their separate beds, at the end of Act III, only for the massed forces of downtrodden Scotland to appear immediately (at what is the start of Act IV) winding their weary way around the villains’ sleeping arrangements as if they weren’t even there. Nor do I care for Banquo dying at the end of Act II scene I only for his body to remain in situ as the scene changes to Macbeth’s castle for the banquet, and which body the assembled then have to circumnavigate gingerly so as not to tread on him, the while affecting ignorance of his presence. This isn’t stagecraft; it’s just silly.

But for much of the rest, the staging goes through some fairly effective motions, though this doesn’t include the pitiful, Peter Sellars-esque formation semaphoring by the witches’ chorus, resembling nothing so much as hyperactive traffic directions given by unibrow biddies in red turbans looking eerily like late-period Joan Crawford. If the show has a “konzept”, it is purely visual: that of a golden latticed box (cue the old Music Hall song “I’m only a bird in a gilded cage”) in which Macbeth both rules, and, eventually, dies, skewered on the rugged red poles that do duty for Birnam Wood. Certainly, the weird sisters – they are never referred to as “witches” in the play, and only practice witchcraft in it in the interpolations written by Thomas  Middleton – are a determining dramatic presence in this production, personally delivering Macbeth’s hastily-penned letter home from the battlefield straight to Lady M’s pillow, ensuring Fleance’s survival by hiding him down a drain, and turning the blameless little number “Onde e sifidi” at the end of Act III, when Macbeth has fainted, into a big Papageno/Papagena production number as half-a-dozen children are brought on to populate his bed (quite why, I’m not sure: and given that Lady M sits there beaming seraphically as the brats pile up, I was half expecting a quick burst of “Doe, a deer, a female deer..”). I also think I espied 11 contenders in the “show of kings”, three more than specified by Middleton’s King James I-flattering fake genealogy, though what are a few more gold caparisoned horses between friends?

Still, dark and mainly claustrophobic in its shallow rusticated stone box, the staging serves well enough, and is cleanly revived by Harry Fehr this time out, with some nice touches – the slashing diagonals of light and underfloor smoke that provoke “Is this a dagger I see before me?”  – and a generally assured progress that for the most part makes – objections above excepted – narrative sense of Piave’s quite skilful boiling-down of the play. Oh, and on a textual note – musical this time – I should add that the 1865 Paris revision (minus its ballet) which is the base text, is subject to reinsertion of some of the original 1847 ending, including the onstage fight with Macduff, which thereby gives Macbeth a final “aria” – actually, a brief, fabulously effective bit of deathbed declamation: “Mal per me!” – before the text rejoins the revision for the new closing chorus “Macbeth, Macbeth ov’è?” (to which the answer is of course “Right in front of you, dears. What you’re singing belongs to an edition where he dies offstage. But then, this wouldn’t be the first time you’ve ignored a dead body onstage tonight, now would it?”). If you’re going to play textual pick-’n-mix, I would have thought it preferable to revert to the original tout court, carrying on from “Mal per me” with the original ending rather than the blatant and banal “triumphalist” rewrite. And I do miss the ballet, as good – and as short – as any Verdi ever wrote, and worthy of inclusion in a supposedly “Paris” based text. Ah well….

Simon Keenlyside undertakes the role locally for the first time, and now, equally for the first time, unmistakably sounds like a Verdi baritone. The dynamic has expanded considerably, and there seems to be both a fullness and greater warmth of tone with which to fill out Verdi’s soaring phrases. In this respect, “Pietà, rispetto, amore” in Act IV was an exemplary piece of full-bodied singing, though one rather lacking in the infinitely subtle modulations of dynamic and colour which Renato Bruson brought to the role in Moshinsky staging in both 1981 and 1988.  There was, at least tonight, some audible flattening from Keenlyside in both outer acts, usually in places where the vocal trajectory is not supported by some version of the melodic line going on in the orchestra, but it was neither disruptive in effect nor unacceptable in degree. More problematic is the dramatic figure he cuts: an odd mixture of the diffident and surly, with little of Macbeth’s brass-balled heroism, and a strange tendency to fidget awkwardly out of, rather than in, character. I thought he looked positively ill-at-ease in places, and not in a way that reflected the dramatic situation. I’m not sure to what extent he may have been inhibited by what looked like a very modern chrome-steel pinned support on his left arm (which I spent two whole acts thinking was decorative armour: that’s what a life in art history does for you!): but he certainly didn’t let it deter him from taking an almighty tumble down some steps when stabbed by Macduff, to the point that I’m quite surprised his whole body isn’t one mass of pins and clamps by now.

About Liudmyla Monastyrska’s Lady M, it isn’t easy to write even-handedly. As I said here on OpBrit of her Aida in the house two months ago, “hers is indeed a Lady Macbeth voice, dark, slightly covered, stentorian and absolutely without fear, which cuts through the appallingly inconsiderate racket Verdi mounts at the end of Act II like a laser, the voice dominating the vast, mad ensemble as Teresa Stolz’s must have been able to, but very, very few have managed ever since. Utterly thrilling, in fact. …… but the various attempts to modulate the decibels leads to loss of control over her instrument, the vibrato straightening out unevenly, the tonal support almost vanishing. As Lady M, this would scarcely be noticed: as Aida, it rather stares you in the face, repeatedly. But make no mistake: Ms. Monastyrska is quite something; just not quite Aida.”

I stand by all of this, though it can’t be overstressed what a house-filling, all-annihilatingly secure sound she produces, no matter what the musical competition she finds herself up against. But – here we go again – just as day follows night, so big voices have big faults which you can hardly help hearing: and in my (unwise) pre-assessment of her suitability for Lady M., I rather failed to take into account the level of vocal flexibility necessary to bring off “Si colmi il calice” in Act II – the Brindisi – or the (both verses!) cabaletta “Or tutti sorgete” in Act I, which emerged here as awkward and tentative, with the coloratura of the latter rendered as pecked-at staccati rather than the as-written legato. I can hear no trill other than her usual vocal vibrato, slightly leaned-on for emphasis: but of the clear alternation of notes a semitone apart, no trace. Trills in Verdi – bel canto in general, in fact – are not optional extras, and as late as Iago and Alice Ford Verdi wrote them out carefully (not that you ever normally hear them, but that’s not the point). She had a personal triumph, of course: singing this loud always does. But I remember both Grace Bumbry and Renata Scotto in the role at Covent Garden – in two different stagings – neither of whom exactly shirked the role’s fearful demands in terms of powerful delivery, but both of whom, in their very different way, brought far more variety of colour and dynamic to their singing. There is also the inescapable fact – evident in Aida, palpable here – that Ms. Monastyrska cannot in any meaningful sense act: she can “emote”, in a Theda Bara sort of eye-rolling, nostril-flaring, mouth-twisting kind of fashion, all exaggerated sneers and pouts: but of the gift-on-a-plate role of Mrs. Macbeth, she can dramatically make next-to-nothing, alas, a situation flagged-up well in advance by the quite feeble letter-reading at the beginning of Act I scene ii, with shaky Italian allied to absolutely no theatrical efficacy. Plus points however for the (written) D-flat at the end of the Sleepwalking scene: not pretty, and not exactly all there all of the time, but an achievement even so.

Raymond Aceto sang Banquo – I cannot bring myself to say “Banco” as it is in the opera, though in this I’m not alone: neither could the Murderer/Messenger in Act II, who clearly uttered “Bankwo” – and he gave the prima donna a run for her money in the engulfing audibility stakes. The tone is a tad furry, with a distinct “buzz” surrounding the edge of the firm, black sound: but as a Verdian bass, it is nevertheless an impressive instrument, used with great skill in “Come dal ciel precipita” just before his murder. I’m not quite so sure about Dimitri Pittas, making his house debut as Macduff: the voice is bright, clear, very forward and plentifully powerful; but nothing much in “La paterno mano” sounded anything other than a robust sing-through, unfelt, and therefore unmoving. Last time out, in 2006 – can it really be five years since we saw Hampson and Urmana? – Macduff was sung by Joseph Calleja, another effortless house-filler, and one moreover whose basic timbre I don’t much care for. Yet he made something infinitely touching of his lament for his dead children, which Pittas’ superficially more attractive – to me, at least – singing rather missed.

Very nice support work from Lukas Jakobski and Elisabeth Meister as the Doctor and Nurse in Act IV – was it her I heard matching Monastyrska’s already rafter-rattling high Cs in the choral ensembles? – though I don’t quite “get” Steven Ebel as Malcolm, null of stage presence, void of voice.

The (much) augmented chorus sang as if their lives depended on it, with stentorian force very much in keeping with Pappano’s slightly surprising approach to the opera, not so much blazingly theatrical as bludgeoningly monumental, several tempi a shade slower than usual, (to accommodate Ms. Monastyrska around tight corners, I wonder?), with rhythmic patterns hammered out, and a general sense more of sheer scale than sizzle. Heresy, doubtless, but I think I preferred Yakov Kreizberg’s conducting in 2006, fleeter and less inclined to play to the staging’s weaknesses by overemphasis (dead this year, aged 54; a terrible, terrible loss). As for the hair-raising electricity with which Riccardo Muti galvanised the score here in 1981, well, that remains sui generis in my experience, and unlikely to be repeated in my lifetime, worse luck. I just feel that some part of the frisson that Macbeth embodies musically goes a bit AWOL if treated, as here, too grandly: this isn’t Don Carlo, much less Aida; it isn’t designed to overwhelm so much as move (in both senses) and I felt, perhaps uniquely for all I know, that it had been inflated to the point that it couldn’t fully do so in either sense any longer. Still, for all my animadversions, this remains a most powerful account of the score: as is the whole ensemble, vocal and dramatic, whatever its local shortcomings. And – a point worth making, albeit belatedly – it is the most tremendous work of Verdi’s “galley” years, and really shouldn’t be missed. In its own darkly glittering, moody way it gets as close to the essence of Shakespeare as Otello, written well over thirty years later. If there are any tickets left, don’t hesitate.

Colin Clarke, Seen and Heard International, 30.5.2011

Phyllida Lloyd’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth was first seen at Covent Garden in 2002. This, its second revival, is directed by Harry Fehr. Since its first airing there has been an Opus Arte DVD of the production from Barcelona’s Liceu (with Carlos Álvarez in the title role, with Maria Guleghina as Lady Macbeth and Roberto Scandiozzi as Banquo – the conductor is Bruno Campanella, OA0922 D ). Good though it is to have Lloyd’s take on the Scottish play filtered through the medium of film, her production really only triumphs live, where a sense of scale and the power of darkness prevail. Lloyd’s use of a giant golden cage is telling: power there may be, but it does nothing to alleviate the trapped nature of the main characters (the crown of Scotland is itself held in a smaller cage in the second act). Their fate is foretold by witches, and from that moment on there is no escape. It is not only darkness and claustrophobia that lies at the heart of Lloyd’s staging – there is also the sense that everything superfluous has been stripped away, leaving only blackness; this is particularly evident in the second act. Macbeth is, let us remember, Shakespeare’s shortest play, and his most concise. Intensity is all. Lloyd asks us to zoom in on this, and the effect is disconcerting, almost overwhelming. Also, the contrast between the private, psychological dramas of the Macbeths and that of outward kingly spectacle is tellingly made. The staging’s strength lies in that the images of each are equally strong and memorable, ensuring that it is the friction between these two extremes that provides the supporting fuel for Verdi’s operatic edifice.

Verdi’s witches are a whole chorus rather than Shakespeare’s more limited number. They intone the prophesies in unison, solemn and unflappable. Here, the ladies of the Royal Opera House Chorus were tremendous, exuding confidence and insight. In short, you, as listener, believed them.

The role of Lady Macbeth is replete with drama and there are several major arias that test the singer’s mettle. On the present occasion the role was taken by the Ukranian soprano Liudmyla  Monastyrska, who recently made her Royal Opera debut as Aida. One could argue the opera is more hers than Macbeth’s, and Monastyrska thrilled from the very beginning, in her Act 1 Scene 2 “Vieni! t’affretta!”. Her Act 4 reliving of her husband’s atrocities (“Una macchia”) was one of the highlights of the evening – Monastyrska seemed completely inside the part. Whether sleepwalking or plotting, we lived each evil act through the channel of Monastyrska, as indeed we did her ensuing unravelling.

The Macbeth on this occasion was Simon Keenlyside on top form. I found him even more convincing here than I did in Don Carlo (where he took the part of Rodrigo) and, if the above argument is true – that it is Lady Macbeth that gets the really juicy arias –  Keenlyside seemed out to disprove it. He was full of steely resolve in Act 2 to terminate Banquo, and indeed here he worked in perfect tandem with his Lady Macbeth. His hallucinations later in the act were incredibly well done. Keenlyside’s legato was a thing of wonder. There was however the inescapable impression that Keenlyside’s voice was tiring in the later stages of the evening, something that came as rather unexpected. Keenlyside is a singer of huge experience, so mistiming his exertions (of which there were many) seems uncharacteristic.

Raymond Aceto’s Banquo began badly – rather unsteadily, in fact, before building into something altogether more convincing. Aceto has previously sung this role in Chicago. Both Dimitri Pittas (Macduff) and Steven Ebel (Malcolm) acquitted themselves creditably, although Pittas could perhaps add more subtlety to his reading.

Antonio Pappano was conducting his first Macbeth at Covent Garden. His account was urgently dramatic, so much so that the opening of the opera had me doubting his speeds. Were they to be too quick? I needn’t have worried, and the orchestra responded superbly, both in terms of accuracy and in terms of malleability (they seemed totally at Pappano’s will).There was a great lyric impulse to the opening of the second act, for instance, that seemed to fit the prevailing emotions perfectly. The final words of this critique should go to the chorus, here on top form. They have plenty to do in Macbeth, and whatever they did on this opening night seemed flecked with the very magic that lies at the heart of this supernatural drama.

Simon Collings, The Oxford Times, 1 une 2011

Macbeth was the first of Verdi’s operas to draw on the work of William Shakespeare and at the time of its composition in 1847 it marked a big step forward in the composer’s development. The Royal Opera is now presenting a second revival of Phyllida Lloyd’s 2002 production of the opera, this time under the direction of Harry Fehr. It is based on the revised version Verdi prepared for Paris in 1865.

It is a sumptuous performance: the drama is fast paced and the large chorus is deployed with superb effect from the opening witches’ cabal to the final victory scene. Visual motifs weave cleverly through the production. The gilded canopy under which Duncan is murdered becomes the dais of the new-crowned Macbeth, later morphing into a gilded cage and the place of his death.

The witches appear not just as the foretellers of events but as agents of the proceedings too, their crimson turbans evoking the bloodiness of the action. A witch delivers Macbeth’s letter to his wife, another hides Fleance from his would-be assassins At the end of Act II, the guests who have witnessed Macbeth’s ravings at the appearance of Banquo’s ghost transform into a mass of refugees wrapped in blankets, trudging through gently falling snow. It’s an imaginative touch, anticipating the scene which opens Act IV with the refugees lamenting the misery of war.

References to the uniforms worn in the Balkan conflict in the 1990s, and perhaps to more recent events in the Arab world, remind us of the chaos inflicted on ordinary people by the lust for power of a few.

Liudmyla Monastyrska is impressive as Lady Macbeth. She’s in complete command technically and uses a wide range of vocal effects to convey the complex character of her ambitious and mentally unbalanced character. She’s ruthless, sexy, yet ultimately pathetic. Several of her scenes drew appreciative applause from the audience including the famous La Luce Langue aria in Act I and the sleep-walking scene in Act IV. Monastyrska came to international attention in 2009 when she stepped in at short notice to sing Tosca at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. Her performance as Lady Macbeth will surely help to cement the reputation of this Ukrainian star.

Simon Keenlyside is an imposing Macbeth, moments of nervy irresolution alternating with acts of blind impulse. His wife’s domination drives him from one gory act to another until her breakdown and death leave him broken, like a man acting out a role he no longer believes in. Keenlyside drew well-deserved applause for his moving aria Pietà, rispetto, amore where he grieves over what his life has become. Raymond Aceto (Banquo) and Dmitri Pittas (MacDuff) also give vivid performances. Pittas’s lament for the death of his children in Act IV was stirring and full of grief.

The opera will be broadcast live in 450 cinemas on June 13, including the Odeon and Phoenix Picturehouse in Oxford (www.odeon.co.uk/fanatic/booking-interactive/s115/p52260000023QFOQNIB; www.picturehouses.co.uk) and the Regal, Henley (www.picturehouses.co.uk). This is part of an expanding programme of broadcasts from the Royal Opera.

Please note that this production of Macbeth will be relayed to cinemas worldwide on June 13.

Michael Tanner, The Spectator, June 2011

Royal rewards

Macbeth may not be Verdi’s greatest opera, in fact it’s hard to imagine anyone’s claiming it is, yet in a performance that is as musically inspired as the one I saw at the Royal Opera last week (the second of the run) it comes across as an inspired work, almost all the way through, and one which can be considered seriously alongside Shakespeare.

Macbeth may not be Verdi’s greatest opera, in fact it’s hard to imagine anyone’s claiming it is, yet in a performance that is as musically inspired as the one I saw at the Royal Opera last week (the second of the run) it comes across as an inspired work, almost all the way through, and one which can be considered seriously alongside Shakespeare. Neither the play nor the opera is perfect, but the greatest things in each are so overwhelming that it would be churlish to complain of unevenness.

Verdi, like Shakespeare, saw the need for the utmost compression, and the action speeds along in a series of compact scenes, the gaps between them adding to the intensity. The only failing in both play and opera is that Lady Macbeth’s disintegration is not prepared for. At the end of Act III she and Macbeth agree to the elimination of any remaining obstacles, and the next time we encounter her she is sleepwalking, in one of the opera’s most powerful scenes. But until then she had given no sign of cracking, while her husband is clearly on a downward trajectory from early on.

Verdi’s musical resources in Macbeth are not, in large part, any more sophisticated than they had been in his earlier operas, though naturally the music that he added for the revision, 18 years after the first version, is less formulaic: but the opera is almost seamless, and if you didn’t know it was revised there is very little that would make you suspicious. What, nonetheless, he achieves is an idiom that allows great singing actors to fill their roles with a charge of meaning that lifts the action on to a far higher plane than anything in the operas that precede it. And great singing actors are just what he has at the Royal Opera.

Simon Keenlyside, not exactly typecast as Macbeth, gives one of the performances of a lifetime. His voice seems to have grown several sizes, and since he also sings extraordinarily effective pianissimi, he has the means at his disposal to create a complex character who can exult, rage, hesitate, despair, defy, all by vocal means. But since Keenlyside is also a fine actor, the figure he presents us with is of appalling pathos. And he performs the most spectacular death fall seen at Covent Garden since Boris Christoff last sang Boris Godunov there — and with a broken arm.

Keenlyside is fully matched by Liudmyla Monastyrska as ‘the Lady’, as Verdi always called her. She wasn’t impressive as Aida a couple of months ago, but here she is a different artist. She reads Macbeth’s letter uncommonly well, and vaults into her stupendous first aria with enormous panache. She makes, as a singer must, the brindisi that Lady Macbeth sings to divert the guests’ attention from Macbeth’s outburst at seeing Banquo’s ghost a painful, indeed tragic but heroic effort. And her last solo is eerie, heartrending. I’d have welcomed a less indeterminate relationship between the married pair — they seem to avoid kissing.

The rest of the cast are all up to their standard, with an impressive Banquo from Raymond Aceto. And, vitally, that somehow the miserable production of Phyllida Lloyd, and the unhelpful sets of Anthony Ward, subtract far less from the impact than one would expect. Even so, it is time that they were retired and replaced by something that didn’t require virtually superhuman commitment and capacities to overcome them.

Adrien de Vries, Classiquenews.com, 17.6.2011

Translation will follow as soon as possible

En ce lundi de Pentecôte, le cinéma “Le Castille” à Poitiers retransmettait en direct du Royal Opera House de Londres l’opéra Macbeth composé et créé au teatro della Pergola de Florence en 1847 par Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) sur un livret de Francesco Maria Piave et Andrea Maffei; les deux poètes s’inspirent de la pièce éponyme de William Sakespeare sur les indications de Verdi lui-même qui tenait absolument à voir les scènes les plus fortes sur le plan émotionnel apparaître dans son opéra (l’apparition du spectre de Banco au deuxième acte, celle de la descendance royale de Banco au troisième acte, la scène du somnambulisne de Lady Macbeth au dernier acte…). Et si pour contenter le public français il a dû rajouter l’indispensable ballet pour la création parisienne en 1865, Verdi en a surtout profité pour donner un air supplémentaire à Lady Macbeth : “La luce langue…” au deuxième acte. Pour la reprise de cette production qui utilise la version définitive (qui date de 1874), le Royal Opera House a réuni une distribution exceptionnelle dominée largement par le baryton britanique Simon Keenlyside qui était dans un très grand soir.

Mise en scène sans excès …
La mise en scène reste sobre entrainant le public dans une Ecosse intemporelle. La face fantastique de l’oeuvre est accentuée par l’utilisation judicieuse du ballet notamment, lorsqu’au troisième acte, les sorcière préparent avec délices leur abominable mixture peu avant l’arrivée de Macbeth venu les réinterroger sur son destin. Le décor mobile permet de se déplacer d’un lieu à l’autre sans se perdre dans un dédale de pièces et de couloirs. Pourtant quel dommage que, pour le choeur des exilés au quatrième acte, Macbeth et son épouse, endormis chacun dans un lit soient restés sur scène, ce qui, dans le contexte dramatique de la scène semble presque incongru. En revanche les costumes, sombres, parachèvent bien la volonté de mettre en avant les aspects les plus noirs de Macbeth. Cette production échappe ainsi à la mode de la modernisation à tout crin permettant au public de se plonger sans effort dans l’atmosphère noire, voire sordide, de l’opéra de Verdi qui s’est approprié la pièce de Shakespeare avec brio.

Plateau vocal génial …
Vocalement le plateau réuni par le Royal Opera House pour l’occasion était somptueux. Simon Keenlyside qui chantait le rôle-titre reste magistral de bout en bout tant vocalement, en affrontant avec panache les pics de la partition, que scéniquement… en incarnant parfaitement l’homme tourmenté et dominé par une épouse dévorée d’ambition et sans scrupules. Liudmilla Monatyrska incarne de manière exceptionnelle une Lady Macbeth implacable, et la scène du somnambulisme fait véritablement froid dans le dos tant elle y avoue d’horreurs et d’atrocités multiples; il ne manque rien à cette artiste qui, avec Keensylide, incarne sans aucune faiblesse, le mal dans sa cruauté la plus horrible.
Face à ce couple aussi diabolique et sans pitié, si assoiffé de pouvoir, Raymond Aceto fait un Banco de très belle tenue; malheureusement tout l’aplomb du général victorieux ne l’empêchera pas d’aller vers son destin, mais il le fait crânement et si le parti pris du metteur en scène peut étonner, une sorcière, suit Banco pas à pas, sauvant son fils d’une mort certaine en le cachant des sicaires venus le tuer en même temps que son père. Le jeune ténor Dimitri Pittas est la très belle surprise de la soirée: son Macduff est émouvant et sensible; si dès le finale du deuxième acte, il laisse transparaitre la peur et l’inquiètude qui le tenaillent, c’est au quatrième acte quand il interprète son aria “Figli, ô figli miei … Ah la paterna mano” qu’il laisse exploser la douleur du père et du mari qui a tout perdu mais aussi le remords de n’avoir pas sû protéger les siens du couple diabolique qui règne sur l’Ecosse. Steven Ebel (Malcom), Elisabeth Mesteir (Dama di Lady Macbeth), Lucas Jacobski (medico) complètent très honorablement un plateau dont le niveau est exceptionnel de bout en bout.

… accompagné par un orchestre et un choeur au sommet
Même si Antonio Pappano qui dirige l’orchestre et le choeur du Royal Opera House a parfois tendance à faire jouer ses musicien trop fort, il sait imposer un engagement remarquable permettant au cast de donner son maximum ce qu’il fait avec un plaisir évident. Quant au choeur, la préparation est parfaite en musicalité et diction, ce qui est très appréciable tant cet aspect, pourtant essentiel, est parfois négligé.

C’est donc une très belle soirée à laquelle nous avons assisté en direct de Londres. Ce Macbeth, servi par des artistes géniaux chauffés par un orchestre et un chef au sommet de leur art, a permis au public de découvrir ou de redécouvrir le baryton britanique Simon Keenlyside qui a donné au rôle-titre une image sombre et tourmentée à souhait comme l’avait souhaité Verdi ; On souhaite une prochaine sortie en dvd pour voir ou revoir, sans modération, cette production londonienne en tous points mémorable.

Christophe Gervot et Alexandre Calleau,Fragil.org,7.7.2011

Translation will follow as soon as possible

«Macbeth» au Covent Garden de Londres: le pouvoir jusqu’à la démence!

Le Covent Garden de Londres vient de reprendre une production du «Macbeth» de Verdi, coproduite avec l’Opéra de Paris, où elle avait été créée en 1999. La mise en scène de Phyllida Lloyd repose sur une dramaturgie de l’enfermement.

Macbeth est une tragédie de l’ambition, qui enferme progressivement les protagonistes  dans la folie et l’aveuglement. Le décor de Anthony Ward est extrêmement sombre et illustre ce délire du pouvoir. Les époux Macbeth, comme prisonniers d’eux mêmes, sont enfermés par des grilles. Parfois, cet espace s’ouvre sur le fond du plateau et laisse entrevoir les crimes qui ont permis l’accès au trône, ou les fantasmes du monarque, comme l’image spectrale démultipliée d’un roi à cheval, recouvert d’or, qui traverse la scène durant la seconde rencontre avec les sorcières. Ces dernières sont ici des figures du destin, véritables démiurges du drame. Elles apparaissent à des moments clefs de l’action, ou dévoilent des éléments symboliques, comme cette couronne, d’un or qui brille de mille feux.

Elles sont vêtues de tenues rouges, qui tranchent avec l’austérité ambiante. Plus le couple chemine dans sa folie destructrice, plus chacun d’eux porte des vêtements clinquants, et qui brillent, pour mieux souligner l’aspect illusoire de leur obsession. Lady Macbeth affirme, dans une aria hallucinée, que l’on n’a rien à craindre des morts, qui ne connaissent qu’un requiem, l’éternité. Une image paradoxale et troublante les représente parmi une multitude d’enfants sur un lit, peu de temps avant que tout ne bascule, avant la scène de somnambulisme. Pendant le prélude orchestral, la femme du tyran prend un bain, une solution radicale pour se laver de la culpabilité qui la ronge, elle qui, alors qu’elle perd la raison, se fixe sur une tâche de sang qu’elle a sur la main, et qu’elle ne parvient pas à effacer. La fin exhibe un Macbeth supplicié, victime de son ambition : il apparaît crucifié, durant le chœur final.

Antonio Pappano: un orfèvre des sons

Antonio Pappano est directeur musical du Covent Garden. On lui doit, avec le même orchestre, un enregistrement d’anthologie de « Tristan et Isolde » de Wagner, paru chez EMI, en 2005. Sa direction est fiévreuse et riche en nuances. Parfois, on a le sentiment qu’il sculpte le silence, pour mieux mettre en valeur des accords particulièrement troublants.

Les interprètes lui répondent, en un fascinant dialogue, et sont complètement habités. Ils explorent, de manière vertigineuse, les mécanismes d’un pouvoir qui sort de ses gonds. La soprano ukrainienne, Liudmyla Monastyrska, prête une voix ample, évoluant de sonorités caverneuses à des aigus tourbillonnants et aériens pour construire une Lady Macbeth électrisante et tourmentée.

A ses côtés, Simon Keenlyside, Wozzeck d’une bouleversante humanité en 2008 à l’opéra Bastille, incarne un monarque saisissant pétri de contradictions. Il est sanguinaire et fragile, angoissé face aux prédictions des sorcières, profondément humain. Il apporte d’inquiétantes couleurs à une réplique issue de la pièce de Shakespeare, traduite en italien, « C’est l’histoire d’un pauvre idiot, de bruit et de fureur, qui ne signifie rien», juste après la mort de son ambitieuse épouse. Le ténor Dimitri Pittas, l’un des deux ducs de Mantoue du mémorable «Rigoletto» mis en scène par Eric Génovèse à Bordeaux en 2007, est un Macduff plein d’énergie et de ferveur, l’une des figures lumineuses de cet opéra, qui en accélère le dénouement.

Michael Lehnert, Das Opernglas, Juli/August 2011
Translation will follow as soon as possible

” … Doch bewegte sich dieser Vortrag nicht auf dem hohen künstlerischen Niveau, das Simon Keenlyside als Verdi-Bariton repräsentierte. Sein Zauberwort heißt Atemtechnik, die inzwischen so differenziert ausgeprägt ist und von ihm eingesetzt werden kann, dass ihm nicht nur die an Piero Cappuccilli erinnernden sprichwörtlichen unendlichen Bögen in der hohen Lage gelingen, sondern dies ihm auch erlauben, auf eine feine und elegante Art einen abwechslungsreichen und höchst kunstfertigen Phrasierungsspielraum zu präsentieren, ohne diese je dabei Selbstzweck werden zu lassen. Auf so einer stimmlichen Grundlage fällt es umso leichter, die Glaubwürdigkeit des Charakters des Macbeth zu erzeugen, der keineswegs zum Wachs in den Händen seiner machtgierigen Frau wird, sondern sich eher zum König berufen fühlt bei aller verabscheuungswürdigen Brutalität. Ein ganz großer Abend und eine ganz große umjubelte Interpretation des Baritons, der heute sicher zu den Top Ten der Sangeskunst überhaupt zählt. … ”

Keris, filmjournal.net, 28.1.2012

” … Simon Keenlyside doesn’t have the full heft of a Verdi baritone, but his consideration of his lines and delivery of them makes real the forced bravado and the underlying horror of his fate that lies in his character. That’s quite impressive, particularly in his death scene aria ‘Mal per me’ (the opera working from Verdi’s 1865 revision of the opera, but successfully reinstating some of the 1847 cuts). …”

Simon talking to Lloyd Bracey at the Royal Opera House Insight afternoon, 14 May 2011.
Photo Tom Nelson

2011 May 14 Macbeth Insight evening ROH

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Liam June 18, 2011 at 1:06 pm

I wonder is there any chance of this being released on DVD? I know the production is already on DVD with Carlos Alvarez…but would be great to have this cast preserved.

Inci Birsel June 14, 2011 at 1:44 pm

I watched the HD broadcast in Vienna on 13th,June. Simon Keenlyside was at the top of his stage
carrier , almost matching his performance in Hamlet. He was very immersed in the character of Macbeth, his acting ability matching his singing. I just could’t believe how he threw himself down after the stabbing in Act 4. Congratulations on the extraordinary performance. Can’t wait to watch him live in Salzburg in July. Inci Birsel

Jane May 31, 2011 at 6:30 am

Hmmm… .difficult to be entirely convinced by some of what Stephen Jay-Taylor says about Simon’s acting – i.e. that he tended to “fidget awkwardly out of, rather than in, character”….does Simon ever go out of character on stage????? I have my doubts! I much prefer Hilary Finches perception of Simon’s portrayal of Macbeth and tend to think it may be considerably nearer the mark.

Petra January 23, 2011 at 8:06 pm

No, Vienna’s Macbeth production was ONLY shown in Vienna and only for about 5 performances – it is already gone – thank heaven!

asperia January 23, 2011 at 8:04 pm

the MET´s Macbeth was the same like the Vienna´s Macbeth? It wasnt that bad. and there will be Simon:-)

asperia January 23, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Pittas i think, sang something in Met´s Macbeth:-)

Terence Dawson March 13, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Will this be a new production? I hope it’s not the disastrously received Vienna version!

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