Saturday, October 4, 2014

Compiersi debbe l'opra fatale: Macbeth at the Met

This won't end well. Macbeth, Act II. Photo (c) Met Opera
What a difference a performance makes. I saw Verdi's Macbeth at the Met a few seasons ago, and left feeling somewhat worn out by a sense of incoherence. Last night, I left exhilarated. I'm still less than impressed by Adrian Noble's 2007 production; it works smoothly and effectively, but I'd like a stronger connection drawn between the dysfunctional court (the system is broken before the Macbeths take a dagger to it) and the plundered landscapes and disillusioned populace. And I still don't fully get the dowdy, vicious witches, like a misogynist/nightmare version of St. Mary Mead gossips (maybe my problem is trying to "get" the Macbeth witches.) In any case, this time, Verdi's opera emerged as a grippingly unorthodox whole, thrillingly played and sung. The Met orchestra, under Fabio Luisi, took control from the first moments; their playing was clean, propulsive, and nuanced. Gothic-cliché shivers were sent down my spine as the orchestra clairvoyantly mourned the destruction, or underpinned festivities with ironic gaiety. Fabio Luisi conducted with fearless brio, and all the sections worked admirably together to create a well-proportioned melodrama. (I borrow the word melodrama from a Luigi Dallapiccola article on Verdi's musical language, printed here.) The chorus was likewise excellent--intelligible, energetic, and creepy. The prophecy scene was appropriately uncanny; the murderers' chorus and "Macbetto, Macbetto ov'è?" were standouts. "Patria oppressa" also made an unusual impression on me, but this may be because I had been talking about the Risorgimento that morning. The casting of the principals, moreover, was luxurious. Anna Netrebko deserves the plaudits she's been getting for her deliciously unhinged Lady, but there wasn't a weak link among the principals.

 Noah Baetge acquitted himself well as Malcolm. I confess that I sometimes think of Malcolm as "that other tenor in the room," and Baetge sang with a flair, and a ringing tone, that made this impossible. Joseph Calleja sang with accustomed ease and beauty as Macduff. His is an exciting voice to me, and he was on fine vocal form, showing appropriately ominous ardor in the scene of indignation at Duncan's death. I missed, however, seeing his transformation in the second half. He sang "Ah! la paterna mano!" with exquisite phrasing, but I did not believe that Macduff's world had been unmade. Rene Pape, on the other hand, made me care more about Banquo than I have in multiple readings of Macbeth. Even in silence he was impressive; we learn about his relationship to Macbeth even before the duettino, about his identity as a parent already in the moments around Duncan's corpse, where he's torn between a desire to shelter Fleance and a recognition of the adolescent's need for even painful, even dangerous knowledge. Not only in ensembles, but in small exchanges, Pape sang with rich expressivity, as well as unfailingly rich sound. "Come dal ciel precipita" was a genuinely profound meditation, a confrontation with evil and with mortality (and I cried.) The assassination was so well-done that I was mentally cheering on the eventual haunting.

Anna Netrebko sang a Lady Macbeth equally credible in her sensuality and in her self-imposed ruthlessness. Her register integration wasn't perfectly even, but she sang the role confidently and effectively from top to bottom. Again and again I thrilled to hear Netrebko make the unexpected, improbable vocal lines sound inevitable, from an erotic "Ambitioso spirto" to a deeply chilling "La luce langue." (I think I held my breath during the pause before "È necessario!" She was compelling in the banquet scene, brilliant when sleepwalking, looking for a murdered man in a sea of faces... and maintaining regal composure when some idiot "Brava-ed" mid-scene.  Zeljko Lucic sang a moving Macbeth, with full-bodied singing, and good use of text. Although his phrasing was a bit rocky at the start, matters rapidly improved, and he didn't shout out of his lines, or sound gravelly. (I like Lucic, but sometimes feel he doesn't sound his best at the Met; I was pleased that he acquitted himself so well in this role.) Choreography didn't help his acting, but the role was thoughtfully, richly sung. Not least, Lucic built the emotional intensity inexorably to a climax, an accomplishment unusual in a role with so many crises. Watching his descent was compelling and moving; once he has confronted the betrayal of his own humanity in "Pietà, rispetto, onore," there is nowhere for him to end but as a triumphed-over tyrant.

1 comment:

  1. I'm very much looking forward to seeing this next week.


Start a conversation!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...