Lyric Macbeth Review - Double double toil and trouble

Macbeth (Thomas Hampson) and Lady Macbeth (Nadja Michael)

 Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 56th season opened with so much buzz.  General Director William Mason says it best:

“It’s a powerful story and the best of early Verdi. The brilliant baritone-soprano duet after Macbeth has killed Duncan is absolutely searing, and Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene is one of opera’s greatest. We have two magnificent protagonists: Thomas Hampson, who owns this role and has triumphed in it throughout the world; and the stunning Nadja Michael, a singing actress with a staggering stage presence as Lady Macbeth. As he demonstrated in conducting this season’s Ernani, Renato Palumbo is a master of the Verdi style.
        “ Barbara Gaines is a brilliant director who has made Chicago and Shakespeare her own,” Mason declares. “She’s given incredible preparation and study to Verdi’s version of Macbeth. This will be an unforgettable season opener.”

Macbeth (Thomas Hampson) and Lady Macbeth (Nadja Michael)

What an unbeatable formula. Shakespeare. Verdi. Barbara Gaines, founder and artistic director of Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Even though this was Gaines's debut at the Lyric, there was never any doubt that she could bring out the Shakespeare in Verdi.

Macbeth (Thomas Hampson)

She certainly had a lot going for her. A new Verdi star-studded production  with phantasmagorical metal (armor?) sets designed by James Noone (debut), the primitive and/or battle-worn costumes versus Lady Macbeth's sleek, silky, sexy gowns by Virgil C. Johnson, dazzling lighting by Robert Wierzel and Harrison McEldowney (debut) as the choreographer who gave us flying witches.

The production was huge. Note the size of the cast and chorus.

There was no way I could avoid the temptation to compare the Verdi Macbeth to Gaines' staging of Shakespeare's Macbeth at Chicago Shakespeare Theater about two years ago. The Macbeth I saw then was, like many American soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, still coping with the glaring differences between war and life as he once knew it. To me, it looked like he had the Elizabethan version of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He was tentative and conflicted, and yes, bewitched. Lady Macbeth was power-hungry but motivated by the love she felt for her husband. She wanted him to be happy.

Macbeth (Thomas Hampson) and Lady Macbeth (Nadja Michael)

Verdi's Macbeth, though horrified, seemed almost a pushover for Lady Macbeth's ruthless schemes. Early on, the opera "cut to the chase." That's where the differences lie.  Thomas Hampson has said that Verdi's Macbeth is a "distilled" version of the bard's tale. Aha! That's what happened. When the Shakespearean Macbeth was distilled, much of his and Lady Macbeth's humanity was lost--they became one-dimensional, inhuman, unsympathetic.  They were monsters.

Lady Macbeth (Nadja Michael)

Other characters are the noble Macduff (tenor Leonardo Capalbo, debut), who finally triumphs over Macbeth; Banquo (bass Štefan Koæan, debut), originally Macbeth’s friend but eventually his victim; Malcolm (tenor Konstantin Stepanov, debut), the son of the murdered king who eventually is restored to the throne; and the Lady-in-Waiting (soprano Carter Scott, debut), who witnesses Lady Macbeth’s suicide.

Lady Macbeth (Nadja Michael)

Of course, the music followed the plot. Lamentations, loss, and, of course, madness.

Macbeth (Thomas Hampson) and Lady Macbeth (Nadja Michael)

The characters powerfully expressed horror, courage, regret, despair, desperation. But there was little contrast. Forget comic relief.  Where was the tenderness and or sexual chemistry? the joy? There was triumph in the end--but it was when Macbeth was finally defeated.

Macbeth (Thomas Hampson)

What did you think? Was you reaction like mine?  Tell me your impressions. Send them to [email protected]. Look for your responses in the coming week(s).

MACBETH / Giuseppe Verdi  (in Italian with projected English translations)
9 performances beginning at 7:30 p.m., and matinees at 2:00 p.m. on Oct. 1, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21 (mat), 24 (mat), 30.

Premiered in 1847 and significantly revised in 1865, Macbeth combines the magnificent and irresistible vigor of early Verdi with the probing psychological depth of the composer’s later works. Shakespeare’s taut tragedy is distilled to its absolute essentials, concentrating on the Scottish play’s unforgettable central couple: the title character (baritone Thomas Hampson), Thane of Cawdor, whom the witches predict will ascend to the throne of Scotland; and his wife, Lady Macbeth (soprano Nadja Michael, debut), whose consuming desire for power pushes her husband towards murder.

Lyric History
Lyric Opera has previously presented Macbeth in three other seasons (1969, 1981, 1999-00).
Sponsors and Supporters
The new Lyric Opera production of Macbeth was generously made possible by The Gramma Fisher Foundation of Marshalltown, Iowa, the Abbott Fund, Randy and Melvin Berlin, and Nancy W. Knowles.

Lyric Opera of Chicago
20 N. Wacker Drive
Chicago, IL 60606

Photos: Lyric Opera of Chicago Dan Rest and Robert Kusel

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