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The Scottish opera scores!

Palm Beach
Kravis Center for the Performing Arts
01/24/2014 -  & January 25, 26*, 2014
Giuseppe Verdi: Macbeth
Csilla Boross (Lady Macbeth), Michael Chioldi (Macbeth), Richard Wiegold (Banquo), Sean Panikkar (Macduff), Joseph Dennis (Malcolm), Rachel Arkey (Lady-in-Waiting), Peter Tomaszewski (Doctor)
Palm Beach Opera Chorus, Greg Ritchey (chorus master), Palm Beach Opera Orchestra, David Stern (conductor)
Bernard Uzan (director), Florentine Opera Company (scenic design), Malabar Ltd., Toronto (costume design), Ron Vodicka (lighting design)< BR />

M. Chioldi (Courtesy of Palm Beach Opera)

Verdi's Macbeth is for many, one of opera's greatest. Compelling from beginning to end, despite a couple questionable moments, it moves. Lady Macbeth is not easy to cast, and it it even tougher for companies not located in a major metropolis to assemble a suitable chorus. In this opera the chorus is every bit as important as either of the leads. But let's say a company has all the necessary human resources, this opera will be a tough sell anyway. It is based on a Shakespeare tragedy and no matter how gripping, it is rough. The audience is not going to remember any romance, and the leads are downright scary and pathetic when played properly.

The cast makes this piece what it is. Singers not up to the musical and dramatic demands can sink it fast. Palm Beach Opera got not only two singers playing the Macbeths who have the goods vocally, but they are ideally matched for the story. There is no question that this opera belongs to Lady Macbeth and in Csilla Borros there is the necessary fire and ice. A very attractive woman with a voice that thrills, yet is never harsh (and even if Verdi wanted that, the audience doesn’t) and can even be seductive. It isn’t fair to criticize Mr. Macbeth for not being able to keep up with her. Verdi and his librettist, Francesco Maria Piave, have made it clear that the wife wears the pants in this family. Her role in the opera is much longer than in Shakespeare’s original. Michael Chioldi understands that, though his role is subordinate, he must never let our attention on him be overshadowed. His opening duet with the sensitive Banquo of Richard Wiegold shows a baritone in full control - but the character must show a sensitive side or we will not believe the moments when he shows cowardice. His terror upon attempting to kill Duncan and his confusion when seeing Banquo’s ghost are completely believable, even quite sad, never stooping to the potential melodrama. The role of Macbeth often gets overlooked in performance and even on recording (the great Leonard Warren couldn’t make the Thane any more than a supporting character to Leonie Rysanek). Chioldi has a beautiful tone which is particularly evident even at the end of the opera when he delivers a strongly focused "Pieta, rispetto, amore" (am I the only person who finds this beautiful aria belongs in a different opera?); then he completes the scene with a "Mal per che m’affidai" that is appropriately pathetic.

The Macduff of Sean Panikkar offers no subtlety in the fourth act aria, one of Verdi’s most powerful. This is a choice that works well for the performance as it gives us some Italianate passion in a story so bleak that it borders on depressing. And what a marvelous chorus Palm Beach Opera has assembled from the witches to the banquet guests to the refugees; the emotions are never wrong and always deeply felt.

The fine vocal performances must be credited in large part to conductor David Stern who at times takes the tempo at a faster pace than one might be used to. There are instruments I have never before heard neither in performance nor recording because Stern is keenly sensitive to the complexities of the material.

Bernard Uzan is a director generally grounded in tradition, thank goodness. Never before have I experienced Macbeth, opera or otherwise, where there is such clarity. Macduff and Malcolm (the impressive Joseph Dennis) remain distinct. We even notice Fleance among the refugees giving us reassurance that the bad guys didn’t eventually find him. The action mainly takes place on a small platform in the middle of the stage not letting our attention waver. It is rather heartwarming that this opera ends, maybe not happily, but with tremendous hope.

Ron Vodicka keeps the stage properly and colorfully lit so that the most minor of details are captured.

Macbeth is not one of the heart-tugging operas. We don’t get the opportunity for that, often because it can never become part of the bread and butter repertoire. Everyone might leave feeling satisfied, but few will leave happy. The roles are demanding and few will want to learn them since the opportunity for performance is rare.

This is the first one where Verdi got to prove what he really had when given a fine libretto. The mature Verdi starts here. This production is the gold standard.

Jeff Haller



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