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Creepily effective

Alice Busch Theater
07/11/2015 -  & July 17, 21, 26*, 31, August 8, 13, 15, 17, 22, 2015
Giuseppe Verdi: Macbeth
Eric Owens (Macbeth), Melody Moore (Lady Macbeth), Soloman Howard (Banco), Michael Brandenburg (Macduff), Mithra Mastropierro (Lady-in-waiting), Marco D. Cammarota (Malcolm), Nathan Milholm (Servant/Doctor), Darrell Acon (Assassin)
Glimmerglass Chorus, David Moody (chorus master)Glimmerglass Orchestra, Joseph Colaneri (conductor)
Anne Bogart (director), James Schuette (scenery and costume designer), Beth Goldenberg (costume designer), Barney O'Hanlon (choreographer), Robert Wierzel (lighting designer)

M. Moore & E. Owens (© Karli Cadell)

This is the first time Glimmerglass has performed Macbeth, and also the first time Eric Owens, the festival’s Artist in Residence for the second time, has sung the title role. Since he is a bass-baritone, one might expect that parts of the role lie rather high for him, but it all seemed to fit, while he vividly portrayed a person undergoing an inexorable disintegration.

As his Lady, Melody Moore seemed to sail smoothly through what many consider a treacherous role. She neither overstated nor understated Lady MacBeth’s sense of entitlement leading to her own doom when things unravel. Soloman Howard gave a similarly “to the manner born” performance as Banco (he also performs Sarastro in The Magic Flute) - here is a singer on the way up. The other role with an aria is Macduff, very ably sung by Michael Barndenburg, one of this year’s Young Artists.

The production is set in what looks like the late 1940s. When the lights go down a group of rather dowdy church ladies enter via the theater’s aisles. These turn out to be the witches and they are part of the action throughout - for example, as the Macbeth’s domestic servants. This adds an element of creepy threat to the action, well in keeping with the eerie color Verdi created in his atmospheric score. The witches are also used scenically as they stoically hold candles as the Lady sleepwalks among them.

I failed to discern the purpose of the huge red roses painted on the stage walls, although they gave a vibrancy to a (suitably) dark production. Center stage was a swiveling set of doorways that were used to establish either an indoor or outdoor setting, and allowing a cinematic flow. There was rather too much business involving table settings during the banquet scene as Macbeth jumped on to the table at each appearance of the gruesome apparition, but overall the stage pictures gave a satisfying jolt at just the right moments.

Researching expert commentary on this opera one is struck by how much negative comment there is, especially when compared with Verdi’s other two Shakespeare operas composed decades after Macbeth. One can acknowledge lapses in perfection, but productions like this one, with the marvelous amalgam of Joseph Colaneri’s conducting, Anne Bogart’s staging, and James Schuette’s designs demonstrate just what an effective work it is.

Michael Johnson



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