I have to be honest: I have listened to Plácido Domingo in a Verdi role for baritone (as Simon Boccanegra in Berlin) and did not leave the Staatsoper wishing for more: although he had the low notes, his voice – miraculously, truth be said, sounded just like in the days when he was billed as a tenor and I find this puzzling. Also, Verdi knew that the baritone voice acquires a certain edge in the highest reaches of its range and used it for dramatic purposes, a device largely lost in a tenor’s voice (even in a “senior” tenor’s voice), pretty much in his comfort zone in a high f or f#. But I am in LA and I like Verdi’s Macbeth. I cannot say if my negative disposition had the effect of low expectation on my judgment, but – to my surprise – I found the experience more convincing this time. First, it is amazing how firm and healthy his voice is at his age. This might seem a trivial comment, but, no, Macbeth is not an easy role, both musically and scenically, and Mr. Domingo was able to offer an all-round satisfying performance in it. First, after so many decades on stage, he knows where his strengths lie: his Macbeth is not driven by ambition, he is not driven at all. In his passiveness and spiritual exhaustion, he comes across rather as a depressed man given a last chance. Vocally, this is achieved by the very disadvantages that marred his Simon Boccanegra for me: the roundness and ease in the part’s high-lying passages stand for an impression of apathy; the lighter tonal quality made this Macbeth less authoritative than a Cappuccilli or a Bruson. In act IV, he did seem a little bit physically tired, and he did use that too to show the character’s sucididal drive: the only drive he had left. All that said, as much as I respect what this venerable singer has done here, this was a sucess “everything considered”: a real Verdi baritone would have provided all the thrill this performance desperately needed.
For a mezzo in a tricky soprano part, Ekaterina Semenchuk was surprisingly unfazed by what she had to do. It is true that she needed slower tempi in florid passages, but she never seemed less than confident about what she had to do. Although her self-assurance came dangerously close to predictability, she had a card or two hidden under her sleeves: such as a high-strung repeat of her toast in act II or a Sleepwalking Scene painted on a broad tonal palette and crowned by stunning mezza voce effects. A singer as gifted and reliable as Ms. Semenchuk should be an asset in every ensemble. However, she is hardly a crowd-puller as Shirley Verrett or Fiorenza Cossotto used to be in this repertoire. If I can guess the reason, I would bet on: a) her high notes, easy as they are, do not truly blast in the auditorium as these formidable ladies used to do; b) she is not truly an electrifying actress, but rather bureaucratically strikes some grand poses now and then. Also, although her vowels are quite dark as one would expect in a Russian singer, she has relatively clear diction. Nonetheless, her delivery of the text can be a bit unspecific. Curiously, her reading of the letter in act I was really effective.
Roberto Tagliavini’s velvety tonal quality and seamless legato made for a noble and expressive Banquo. A beautiful performance. Arturo Chacón-Cruz took a while to warm, but was up to his big aria, even if his tenor is too often fluttery and also emphatic in his high notes.
This is my first visit to the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion and I cannot say if the acoustics or the orchestra is to blame for the “dynamic range compression”-feeling I had during the whole afternoon. Whenever one expected the surge in volume in big concertati, I had the impression that intensity would not build up because the orchestral sound seemed basically recessed. Although this could be helpful to his cast, there were scenes that seemed a bit empty without a full orchestra to challenge these singers. Other than this, maestro James Conlon seemed fully in charge: tempi were flowing, accents were impetuous and he seemed keen on rounding all edges. He certainly listened to Riccardo Muti’s recording – and that is a good thing – but if I had to choose a word to say what was missing today this would be: edge. This is Macbeth, there is passion, murder, betrayal, ghosts, war on stage! I should add that the house chorus (in spite of lifeless Italian pronunciation, a serious drawback for the episodes with the witches), is very well balanced and smooth, the basses particularly impressive.
Darko Trenjak’s production is a bizarre affair: the single sets look as remains from the original Star Trek series, but the costumes are supposed to look “traditional”, although they are stylistically inconsistent. The witches are represented by a group of demons who look like extras from the Broadway version of The Lion King. They are supposed to be funny too, a dubious advantage in a performance of Macbeth. I could have put up with that if there had been some Personenregie to speak of. Also, the banquet in Act II was alarmingly ineffective, Banquo’s appearances lackadaisical and the lighting effects predictable and uncreative.