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Macbeth's Demise

San Francisco
San Francisco Opera
11/14/2007 -  11/18, 20, 24, 27, 30 and 12/2
Giuseppe Verdi: Macbeth
Thomas Hampson (Macbeth), Georgina Lukács (Lady Macbeth), Raymond Aceto (Banquo), Alfredo Portilla (Macduff), Noah Stewart (Malcolm), Chiharu Shibata (Duncan, King of Scotland), Ben Seigel (Fleance), Jere Torkelsen (A servant), Elza van den Heever (Lady-in-waiting), Jeremy Galyon (A doctor), Laurel Winzler (Lady Macduff), Clifton Romig (An assassin), William Pickersgill (First apparition), Josephine Hicks-Jablons (Second apparition), Jack Gorlin (Third apparition)
Ian Robertson (Choir Director), Massimo Zanetti (Conductor)
David Pountney and Nicola Raab (Directors), Jose Maria Condemi (Assistant Stage Director), Rachel Henneberry (Stage Manager), Stefanos Lazaridis (Set Designer), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (Costume Designer), Christopher Verdosci (Costumer Supervisor), Gerd Mairandres (Wig and Makeup Designer), Jürgen Hoffman (Lighting Designer), Vivienne Newport (Choreographer), Adelle Eslinger, John Parr, Paul Harris, Ernest Fredric Knell, and Svetlana Gorzhevskaya (Musical Preparation), Jonathan Khuner (Prompter), Joesph DiGugeriis (Supertitles)

Having spurned the Teatro Alla Scala after an unsuccessful new production of Attila in 1846, Giuseppe Verdi shortly thereafter was courted by the revered impresario Alessandro Lasori at the Teatro della Pergola. Although the venue dwarfed La Scala, Verdi believed, alongside Lasori, that he could find a successful premiere inside these doors for his next opera Macbeth. Giuseppe Verdi was adept at understanding a poignant production’s prerequisite would entail effective stagecraft while allowing each cast member to freely express the emotions of the drama.

Verdi’s fondness of Shakespeare led to the creation of his last two operas, Othello (1887) and Falstaff (1893), but it was the subject matter of Macbeth that fascinated him the most. Calling for supernatural forces of ghosts, apparitions and witches Verdi was determined to combine all into a sort of “opera fantastico”.

In 1846 the Italian composer turned to friends Francesco Maria Piave and Andrea Maffei to deliver a libretto with such meticulousness and preciseness. Verdi’s demands were continuous and unyielding, yet it was through such actions that set forth the success of his tenth opera in 1847.

When the curtain rises, the witches’ chorus, dressed in ridiculous blood red outfits, sings sufficiently despite the odd objects held in their possession, ranging from a hula hoop to a typewriter and watering can. Devoid of any Scottish flavor (no flags here) the unimaginative sets of Stefanos Lazardis offer off-white walls with a sole rotating cube serving as the interior of various chambers within the fortress. A blue background scrim intermittently arcs to and fro to cover the bare walls with blind indication of purpose and absence of even a hint of Jürgen Hoffman’s suggested lighting.

Both Thomas Hampson and Georgina Lukács make credible attempts to retain Verdi characterizations as the tragic Scottish husband and wife duo under pallid co-directorship of David Pountney and Nicola Raab. During the first set piece duet we find Hampson in robust form only to slowly fade into exhaustion and disinterest by the end of the opera while Lukács lives up to the dramatic soprano role while unnerving the audience with uncontrolled vibrato that plagues her to the end.

Marie-Jeanne Lucca provides a half-hearted attempt with her somewhat period proper costumes, but falls short with a retinue of soldiers dressed as Darth Vader look-alikes moving about in Vivienne Newport’s thoughtless and unrehearsed choreography. One shining moment is the frieze of Macduff’s murdered family occurring in Act IV.

Raymond Aceto’s rendition of the ill-fated Banquo brings a glimmer of hope to the show. Perhaps the best moment is that of the pristine clarion voice of Noah Stewart as Malcolm, King of Scotland which, however, cannot be said of Macduff sung by Alfredo Portilla, citing his disturbing slides in the upper resister during the aria, “A la paterna mano“.

Making his San Francisco Opera debut is internationally sought Massimo Zanetti whose interpretation of Macbeth creates all the appropriate emotions in all the right places. It is fortunate that Mr. Zanetti’s talented interpretation provides a much needed backbone to the Verdi score.

In his first Shakespearian opera, Macbeth, Verdi breaks conventionalism and invokes fresh ideas. Infrequently performed Macbeth continues to draw a distinct following that one cannot find in his other works. Do not expect comfort in this Zurich original production, but brace yourself for a befuddling and bland interpretation. Giuseppe Verdi created a treasured collection of notes that, by itself, can justify the balance of the performance.

Christie Grimtad



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