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The shadows demand blood

Her Majesty’s Theatre
05/18/2021 -  & May 20, 23, 26, 2021
Giuseppe Verdi: Macbeth
Simon Meadows (Macbeth), Helena Dix (Lady Macbeth), Adrian Tamburini*/Eddie Muliaumaseali’i (Banquo), Samuel Sakker (Macduff), Robert Macfarlane*/Michael Dimovski (Malcolm), Eleanor Greenwood (Lady in Waiting), Alex Pokryshevsky (Doctor)
Melbourne Opera Chorus, Raymond Lawrence (Chorus Master), Melbourne Opera Orchestra, Greg Hocking*/Raymond Lawrence (Conductor)
Bruce Beresford (Director), Greg Hocking (Producer), Greg Carroll (Set & Costume Designer), Rob Sowinski (Lighting Designer), Lisa Perry (Movement Director)

H Dix, S Meadows, A Tamburini (© Robin Halls)

Verdi was fascinated with the theatrical works of William Shakespeare. He devoted a significant part of his compositional life to three operas based on works by The Bard, importantly spanning close to his entire career. There can be no denying that Shakespeare’s Macbeth holds many allures for the audience: murder, revenge, madness and black magic to name but a few and Verdi’s librettists (Piave and Maffe) hold closely to a sublime sense of the theatrical which pervades the play. The undercurrent of the supernatural, the attraction of absolute power, manipulation through force of personality and ultimate corruption are all preserved for Verdi to interweave with his bel canto inspired score. For this production, Melbourne Opera have chosen to predominantly utilise the original 1847 score with the restoration of the final overwhelming aria for Macbeth.

MO has mounted a gripping production of this early Verdian masterpiece, joined for the second time by Academy Award winning Australian Director Bruce Beresford. There are no attempts to update the setting of the opera; it remains in the early middle ages amid warring clans, closely held fiefdoms, rugged castle walls and medieval banquets and this aids the permeation of the entire action by witches, ghosts and apparitions which drive much of the plot. This is a visually thrilling production with murderers lurking in the shadows, cauldrons bubbling in dark caverns and evocative vistas of ruined castle walls. The design team: Greg Carroll and Rob Sowinski, have deliciously brought to life Beresford’s vision of a world of darkness, threat and malice. The occasional splash of jaundiced yellow light stains towering rock and stone walls; elaborate court costumes contrast to the gloom and murk of the settings and Banquo’s ghost appears in a searing shaft of white light, all focussing attention on the central theme of the power of magic.

To limit the original play to one central theme is to misread it entirely. So too is the case with the opera and this production gives much weight to the Shakespearean fascination with the nature of humankind, the dark sides of ambition and power, and ultimately revenge.

Musically, this was a performance to treasure. The two central protagonists sung by Helena Dix and Simon Meadows were superlative from the start. Both grew their roles reaching inspired heights by the end of the riveting drama.

Helena Dix returns to Melbourne from the UK and USA and brings a wealth of experience and assuredness to the stage. She wealds her astounding coloratura like a weapon of attack, reaching blazing and agile highs and fearlessly plummeting to the rich and dark chest tones which mark Lady Macbeth at her most malevolent. Every solo she gave won riotous applause and her dexterity, purity of vocal line and sheer power made her contributions to the ensemble passages memorable indeed.

After his dazzling performance as Alberich in Das Rheingold for MO earlier this year, Simon Meadows attains new heights of eminence with this interpretation of the manipulated, incorrigible and power obsessed titular character. His every appearance on the stage was riveting. He dominates the space and commands attention physically and vocally. The stentorian tones of his intense baritone fill and dwarf the enormity of the giant, Art Deco Her Majesty’s Theatre. His performance mines huge seams of emotional drama and human frailty. From impending madness at the appearance of Banquo’s ghost to deluded self-assurance and pomposity before his eventual fall, Mr Meadows embodies the full range of Shakespeare’s transition from “worthy gentleman” to “dead butcher”.

As Banquo, Adrian Tamburini is galvanising in every way. His strong acting abilities combine fluidly with his glorious bass to portray comradely affection, fatherly love, terrified victim and implacable ghost. This was a spine-tingling performance which drew upon many aspects of Mr Tamburini’s extensive operatic experience.

Verdi devoted much of the musical space of this opera to gargantuan set pieces for the chorus. The role varies between unison singing accompanied by solo timpani, to divided and opposing part arrangements for the witches and the murderers and tending always to full-blown immense tableaux backing the action of the principal characters. The 60 choristers achieve a wonderful constancy of sound and clarity. This is a well-rehearsed ensemble who like the principals “grew” into the performance, reaching their peak towards the bloody conclusion amid a convincingly choreographed battle scene.

Maestro Greg Hocking is the resident Conductor for MO as well as being the Producer. Again, he led the MO Orchestra in a tightly paced and subtly intoned reading of the score. He drew deep and threatening tones from the brass, hovering warnings of the supernatural from the winds and an undercurrent of fate pressing inevitably forward from the expanded string section. This was a very satisfying and convincing performance.

As a company, Melbourne Opera continue to grow and achieve beyond what any audience could imagine probable. This production of Macbeth would comfortably grace the stages of many international opera houses and be a proud addition to the repertoire of many a major opera company.

Gregory Pritchard



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