Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Scottish Opera

I caught the next-to-last Macbeth at San Francisco Opera Friday night, and unfortunately I'm posting this too late for you to catch the last performance, which was on Sunday.

I'd heard plenty about the production, and my conclusion was that it was not as bad as I'd been led to believe. True, the witches' outfits and on-stage demeanor were extremely silly and not at all frightening; true, the green typewriter in the scenes with Fleance made no sense whatsoever; true, it made no sense to have three of the assassins in drag; true, it must have been a royal pain to move that cube around the stage every fifteen minutes.

Still, I found the cube an effective stage element, whether it was the unhappy couple's bedroom, a tent, Duncan's death chamber, or a reminder of what had been, when MacDuff's family made an appearance there.

I did not like one bit the very first significant use of the cube, however, when poor Georgina Lukacs had to sing the letter scene from its roof, standing there in 3-inch boot-heeled pumps and a long dress, tethered to the thing for her own safety. I found myself calculating how much damage would be done to the cube, and to her, if she went over the edge. She wouldn't have hit the floor of the stage 12 feet below, but she certainly would have bounced off or gone through the glass? plastic? face of the cube. If she'd gone through it, well...

I'm willing to bet that the designer just didn't realize that the prompter would be clearly visible reflected in that particular face of the cube during the Banquo/Fleance scene not long before Banquo is killed.

I found most of the stage direction good, especially when the director was managing the interactions among the characters. All of the singers could act, and most of them could sing quite well.

Certainly the smaller roles were well filled, with Noah Stewart as Malcolm, the very fine Raymond Aceto as Banquo, Jeremy Galyon and Elza van den Heever as, respectively, the doctor and Lady Macbeth's lady in waiting. I was amused to see that among the supernumeraries were two children with the last name Runnicles and two with the last name Okerlund. Alfredo Portilla sang Macduff, and while he had the right kind of voice and certainly tried for the right things in "Ah, la paterna mano," he didn't quite get there. His phrasing was a bit off, the climaxes missed by a hair; the aria never came together.

But of course this opera ultimately stands and falls on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and the casting gave us a dramatically convincing pair who were Beauty and the Beast as far as the singing went.

Yes, Thomas Hampson 'twas the beauty and Lukacs the beast. Hampson could do no wrong, from the stunning intensity of his moral descent to the sheer beauty and variety of his singing. He does not have the traditional Verdi baritone with the big trumpety top, and who cares, with singing this great. Lukacs had a fine dramatic manner and a suitably over-the-top way with the character, especially when working directly with Hampson. They made a good pair of evildoers.

Alas, she also had much too much of the ugly voice Verdi wrote that he wanted for the role. I can take ugly, but not with wobble, glottal attacks, missed pitches galore, and very little of the agility required for the Brindisi. Someone should have rewritten the end of the sleepwalking scene for her; she lunged forte for the Db, missed by about a fourth, and gave up completely.

1 comment:

David B said...

All I know of Verdi's Macbeth is the third act ballet music, and a more un-Macbethy, as I conceive of Macbeth, piece of music would be hard to come by. I imagine a Macbeth opera that sounds more like the grislier parts of Ruddigore.

Of course, if you've heard Sullivan's incidental music for The Tempest, you may wonder how much of a grip he had on Shakespearean sensibility either.