Giuseppe Verdi with libretto by Francesco Maria Piave and Count Andrea Maffei, based on the play by William Shakespeare
Met Opera on Demand
Metropolitan Opera House, New York

Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth and Zeljko Lucic in the title role Credit: Marty Sohl
Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth Credit: Marty Sohl
René Pape as Banquo Credit: Marty Sohl

It can be hard to find silver linings in the black clouds that overwhelm us at the moment. One of those is undoubtedly the proliferation of online presentations of stage productions.

New York’s Metropolitan Opera House has long shared its output with the world via the Live in HD series, broadcast to cinemas and also available on subscription.

As part of its contribution to alleviating the tedium of what is effectively house arrest for half of the world’s population, the Met is offering free access to selected options for 23 hours at a time.

Conveniently for those in the United Kingdom, thanks to the time difference with the United States, these are broadly available here on a calendar daily basis.

Despite having enjoyed many nights out at the venue in Lincoln Center, this critic had never previously tried out the pleasure of seeing a Live in HD broadcast.

His maiden voyage, chosen rather randomly since the day was clear of any other serious competition, featured British director Adrian Noble’s sumptuous production, designed by Mark Thompson, of Macbeth by Giuseppe Verdi (and obviously William Shakespeare), first broadcast in October 2014 with subtitles in English.

There are many advantages to watching opera in the comfort of one’s own home, not least the opportunity to stop and start at will, while making the most of a widescreen TV linked to the hi-fi.

It is wonderful to welcome to the living room stars like Anna Netrebko who steals the limelight as Lady Macbeth opposite baritone Željko Lučić, who gives everything in the title role.

The ambitious Lady Macbeth’s first appearance is enough to convince viewers that the Russian soprano has a voice to die for, remarkable stage presence and, less predictably, given the nature of the medium, more than adequate acting skills to convey the overpowering emotions of her character.

The pair combine immaculately in the gory wake of Duncan’s murder, when the world should be their oyster but doubts are already beginning to creep in.

Lučić hits his highpoint during a lavish banquet as Macbeth’s conscience, egged on by Banquo’s ghost, ramp up the drama and makes a confident shift to dark depression as his fateful reign develops.

Rather than mediaeval times, Noble has updated the setting to the Second World War, with Macbeth, Banquo played by bass René Pape and Co. apparently members of a resistance movement, although Duncan seems suitably regal and the banquet incongruously formal.

Tenor Joseph Calleja completes the central team tunefully playing Macduff marching into battle alongside Noah Baetge’s equally adept Malcolm.

The orchestra, conducted by Principal Conductor at the time Fabio Luisi, is immaculate, supporting the gigantic cast and its world-class leading performers with its usual aplomb.

While the intervals are diplomatically skipped, there are 20 minutes of interviews with the great and the good to supplement the 2½ hours of the performance.

Inevitably, you lose the scope and sweep (not to mention the evening dress) of a night out at the Met but, in exchange, there is a chance to see superb performers in close-up, which can expose acting weaknesses but also permits viewers the kind of intimacy that they can never normally hope for, even occupying the best seats in an auditorium that holds close to 4,000 enthusiasts every night.

Overall, this is a great free service that viewers are strongly encouraged to enjoy. This performance is magical, with the drama building to a terrific climax, wonderful music and unforgettable performances from every one of the leading players.

There are a number of ways of tapping into this opera and others at will. The Met Opera On Demand service offers annual ($149.99) and monthly ($14.99) subscriptions as well as a one-off payment ($4.99) for those who have limited time or only want to watch the occasional opera.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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