Macbeth

Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Pave
Deutsche Opera am Rhein
Deutsche Opera am Rhein, Dusseldorf

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Hrólfur Sæmundsson and Ewa Płonka Credit: Sandra Then
Hrólfur Sæmundsson Credit: Sandra Then
Ewa Płonka Credit: Sandra Then

Verdi was a great admirer of Shakespeare. Michael Thalheimer’s powerful production of Verdi’s Macbeth, conducted by Antonino Fogliani, however, is Grand Guignol, not tragedy.

Henrik Ahr’s set is a giant witches’ cauldron into which the Macbeths often slide and then have to scramble to get out. The witches (with their long white hair and bloodied faces) and the chorus (all in black) crawl in and out of the smoke. Stefan Bolliger’s lighting, with its mist and pitch-black darkness, is a key factor in the production’s visual impact.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, struggling, raving, are bonkers right from the very beginning. They are like grotesque puppets, controlled by Hecate. It is Lady Macbeth who is the driving force. It is she who lusts after power. Ewa Płonka, hysterical, face screwed up, eyes startled, arms waving, is an extraordinary sight. Her energy is ferocious.

Hrólfur Sæmundsson’s Macbeth, war-weary, dirty, bloodied, is visibly the weaker of the two. They both behave without any dignity at the banquet to celebrate their coronation. A neat touch is to have Banquo’s Ghost seize the crown on Macbeth’s head.

Banquo (Bogdan Taloș) goes to his death with a beautiful aria. The Scottish refugees and McDuff (Eduardo Aladrén) in particular, all victims of a tyrant’s reign of terror, suffer deeply.

Płonka’s high spot is when Lady Macbeth sleepwalks. Sæmundsson’s high spot is when Macbeth, facing defeat in battle, is overwhelmed by the knowledge, expressed in one of Verdi’s finest arias, "Pietà Rispetto, Amore", that he is now totally without compassion, honour, love and friends

Deutsche Opera am Rhein’s Macbeth can be seen free on the OperaVision channel.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch