Boston Lyric Opera’s bloody “Macbeth” holds up a dark mirror to our time

November 5, 2011 at 2:13 pm

By David Wright

Carter Scott as Lady Macbeth and Daniel Sutin in the title role of Boston Lyric Opera's production of Verdi's "Macbeth." Photo: Erik Jacobs.

Halloween arrived a few days late Friday night at the Shubert Theatre, but the Boston Lyric Opera’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth was as sinister and daubed with gore as any ghoul could wish for.

Before the first note sounded, audience members could contemplate a rumpled red half-curtain, and above it what looked like eleven mummified human bodies hanging upside down.  The costumes and sets, by Nancy Leary and John Conklin respectively, started with ragged, brownish-gray medieval garb for the chorus, then branched out into 1930s imagery such as metallic walls studded with rivets, ball gowns for Lady Macbeth, and tight Fascist-style uniforms for the men.  A giant puppet king, consisting mostly of a bedsheet and an oversize crown, loomed mockingly over the proceedings.

David Schweizer’s staging, which was billed as “a new production based on elements of a New York City Opera production,” called not only for the ghost of Banquo to return and spoil the feast, but for all the murdered characters to continue to haunt the stage as blood-streaked apparitions.  The action onstage, an oddly static mixture of naturalistic and stylized motions by movement director Ken Roht, completed the uncanny picture.

Amid all this weirdness, Verdi’s music sometimes came off as surprisingly tame.  Fans of his late Shakespeare masterworks, Otello and Falstaff, will find in Macbeth only glimpses of those works’ muscular, seemingly self-generating dramaturgy.  But even in a world of conventional cabalettas, choruses, and romanzas, Verdi is still Verdi, and the chorus and orchestra led by conductor David Angus did full justice to the composer’s richly contrapuntal textures.

Performances in the major roles were very good across the board, and included company debuts for baritone Daniel Sutin as Macbeth, soprano Carter Scott as Lady Macbeth, and tenor John Irvin as Malcolm.  As usual for him, Verdi crafted these parts with specific singers in mind, and apparently the original Lady Macbeth specialized in sudden, unprepared high notes.  Scott sounded a little out of control in those dizzy leaps, but elsewhere handled the high tessitura with power and ease, even while (inexplicably) singing the famous “sleepwalking” aria lying down on the stage.

Sutin was also required to sing Macbeth’s confessional soliloquy Pietà, rispetto, amore in an awkward posture, slumped in a chair, but there as elsewhere projected the character’s despair and self-loathing with vocal assurance.

Bass Darren K. Stokes as Banquo and tenor Richard Crawley as Macduff were allowed to stand tall and sing affectingly in their main arias, Banquo’s address to his son just before his murder and Macduff’s grieving but resolute Ah, la paterna mano.

Despite some period references in the décor, this production, lit in deep shadows and harsh shafts of light by Robert Wierzel, often had a disturbingly contemporary feeling, as when Macbeth met his fate, not offstage as in Shakespeare’s version, but center stage amid a pummeling melée reminiscent of a more recent dictator’s end.  Trust Shakespeare, and Verdi, to hold a dark mirror up to our own time.

Macbeth will be repeated Nov, 6, 9, 11 and 13.; 866-348-9738


Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Boston Lyric Opera’s bloody “Macbeth” holds up a dark mirror to our time”

  1. Posted Nov 07, 2011 at 11:18 am by Sharon

    I thought the Opera was fantastic. I have never enjoyed and Opera as much as this one. The puppets were a great addition to the Opera.
    What I enjoyed the most about this Opera, if you knew the story, you could follow right along with the Opera.

  2. Posted Nov 08, 2011 at 8:04 pm by Angelo

    I enjoyed the opera’s matinee performance on Nov. 6, but some of the singing was hard for me to swallow. Lady Macbeth is a very difficult role, but not impossible. The “modern” production seemed a big generic, to be honest. Loved the zombies!

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