I have to confess: this is not the first time I have seen Robert Carsen’s new production of Verdi’s Macbeth. Last time, the experience was so uninspiring that I simply did not feel like writing about it. A little bit less so this time. The staging, of course, remains the same: Scotland is here a military dictatorship, the witches are cleaning women (with brooms of course…), Lady Macbeth is murdered execution-style and, in the end, a new dictatorship is established. The approach itself is interesting if not original, but sometimes one feel that the stock of ideas was a bit low. Lady Macbeth paces up and down and fidgets with bedclothes while singing her opening arias; the king’s murder is shown onstage, making the Macbeths discussion about going inside and outside his room difficult to follow, and the director finds it important that we watch Lady Macbeth dress and undress on stage. Something similar happens with the scenery, when pieces of furniture move about by themselves through the stage for some clumsy effects (choristers checking to see if they are on their way, props that land on the wrong place – this evening the baritone had to kick his bed in order to make way). All this might sound picky, but the point is – if this is going to be a “traditional” staging, one expects realism; if this is going to be a revisionist staging, one expects a concept. Here one would be left wanting for either of them.
Conductor Ivan Repusic compensated for the blankness on stage by a most powerful account of the score. To write that the house orchestra was in great shape is only telling part of the story – these musicians could find really harsh, dark, menacing sonorities, followed the conductor’s forward-moving beat with animation, everything projected drama and intensity. It is most commendable that the young conductor knows the art of balancing the sounds from stage and the pit so adeptly:the orchestra commented the action powerfully and produced full sonorities without saturating the aural picture in which singers’ voices would fit in rather than run over. Repusic knows singers’ necessities and could attend to them in a musically coherent way. For example, in order to help the soprano in her florid toast song, he gradually slowed down the pace while making accents more incisive only to pick the tempo giusto with renewed energy – no one would think of it as other than a Sinopoli-like expressive gesture.
I am not sure if Liudmyla Monastyrska is the Lady Macbeth of my dreams – but I would blame rather Verdi’s impossible writing than this valuable Ukrainian soprano’s abilities. Her big dramatic soprano develops from a solid low register, well-knit into a warm middle register that blossoms in a truly flashing high register, with acuti that pierce through the auditorium and probably further away in the Bismarckstraße. Her coloratura is only decent (she tackles her brindisi with a generous use of staccato) and her mezza voce may sound bleached and smoky, but let’s be frank: how many dramatic sopranos actually do all this?! Anyway, I am curious to hear her in other roles – Aida? – probably more suited to her temper. Here she seems a bit trying too hard to be formidable and bossy – and the evil laughs are a no-go.
Thomas J. Mayer, on the other hand, has no problem with “letting it rip” – he is always ready to let it all out, even when he is way beyond his vocal limits. His is a more forceful than voluminous voice and probably a bit on the low side for Verdian roles. In order to keep with the demands of the part of Macbeth, he has to sing on his 100% most of the time and sometimes is off steam. When this happens, one can feel the effort in emphatic phrasing, short on legato and tonal sheen and alarming limits of “acting with the voice” to avoid some testing passages. However, when he is able to gather his resources, as in Pietà, rispetto, amore, he offers truly exciting singing of impressively dark hue up to his extreme top notes. It is a pity that the role of Banquo lies too high for Ante Jerkunica, for, barred the colourless high notes, his singing is simply faultless in richness, volume and musicianship. I am glad to see how Thomas Blondelle, a member of the ensemble, is developing into big roles. The tone lacks Italianate squillo, but his tenor is proving to be beefy enough and one must praise this Belgian singer for his understanding of Italian style. Finally, the chorus must be praised – especially the women. The Italian text in the witches’ choruses are always difficult for foreign singers (as one could hear tonight), but they certainly got the spirit and sang with raw energy – and acted very well too.