Director Dmitri Cherniakov has written that, for a long while, he had understood nothing in Verdi’s Macbeth. Judging from his staging for the Opéra de Paris, I wonder how much progress he has made. It seems that the Opéra Bastille has a tradition of mixing opera and internet – always for dismal results. This time the stage is covered by a screen on which we can see something like Google Earth showing a contemporary suburban neighbourhood where Macbeth seems to be some sort of mayor. Why does he wear an uniform therefore or why would he have an army at his disposal – those are questions left for our imagination. In any case, we are shown the same The Sims-like images of Macbeth’s house and of a square where poor people apparently live in what looks like dog houses.
It seems that the Macbeth plot has been reduced to a burgeoisie vs. proletariat (yes, I know – so last-century…), but setting the action in a bainlieu does not make any sense. First of all, high politics are rarely done in bainlieues. And Macbeth involves state ceremonies and a coup d’état. Second, proletaries and bourgeois rarely live at the same neighbourhood. In any case, low-income families in European urban areas tend to live in crowded apartment complexes and not in dog houses. Third, why would the Macbeths kill people for… nothing? After Duncan’s death, they live at the same shabbily decorated house (they are not even allowed a dining room for their dinner-parties), wear the same frumpy clothes and have the same old and tacky guests. To make things worse, the supernatural elements of the plot are altogether deleted from the story – aparently the proletaries have a collective power of foreseeing things, for anytime Macbeth appears at their dog-house square, the chorus have always new forecasts to give. Ah, I leave the worst for last – since the Macbeths’ living room is too small, there is no space left for choristers. But you can still hear their voices from… the beyond? I was waiting for the moments when Macduff would say Ihr Unsichtbaren saget mir, lebt denn Duncano noch? Also, when the presence of a soloist on stage does not go with the director’s designs, he or she is heard from backstage through a mircrophone… It is said that, when a staging is really bad, we say good thing about the costumes and sets. But not here – Mr. Cherniakov has also created them and, if I were Lady Macbeth, I would kill him for making me look like a hag.
All in all, Violeta Urmana must be a very gracious person. She tried to hold her dignity together while doing magic tricks (this seems to be a new cliché in Regietheater) or singing her Sleepwalking Scene in untidy white pyjamas. Although she has dealt quite commendably with Lady Macbeth’s tricky fioriture, trills and dramatic high notes, the role is so distant to her personality that she cannot help sounding unconvincing. Her best moment would be a high d-flat-less Sleepwalking Scene, sung without any hint of craziness but abounding in rich warm velvety phrasing. Stepping in for Carlos Álvarez, Greek baritone Dimitris Tiliakos has a plausible voice for Macbeth, with a hint of Renato Bruson but too often off-focus in its high register for comfort. As he had little operational space left, his performance tended to the monochrome. Unfortunately, the great Ferruccio Furlanetto was not in his best voice – but that did not prevent him from offering the most spontaneous rendition of the text (in his native language, an advantage not shared by the soprano and the baritone). The audience’s favourite was, however, Stefano Secco, whose bright tenor and ardent delivery made for a young-sounding Macduff.
It seems that conductor Teodor Curentzis has in Paris the reputation (or rather the notoriety) of being the poorman’s Sinopoli. Although his tempi are always faster than the ones adopted by the late controvesial Italian maestro, both do share the fondness for highlighting hidden niceties in the score at the expense of general coherence. I found his beat often whimsical but I tend to view Macbeth as a conductor’s score and it is always refreshing to have someone with ideas rather than a traffic cop on the podium. Nevertheless, all his curiosity did not help him to produce true excitement in the opera’s great ensembles if we are not speaking of sheer loudness.