Prophesy turns out to be true: a review of Macbeth at Lyric Opera
“Well, here we are! General Manager, President and CEO Anthony Freud made this simple opening night public announcement, and they responded with thunderous applause. After eighteen months of near silence in Chicago’s largest opera house, patrons – who had proven they were fully vaccinated and agreed to be masked throughout their evening – were greeted by Freud and the president. from the Board of Directors, Sylvia Neil. The duo reviewed the successful ventures the company has undertaken during its hiatus on the main stage and thanked the audience and Lyric’s benefactors for their unwavering support throughout. But despite the palpable excitement of the crowd, with no red carpet on the doorstep or no annual opera ball after the performance this year, there was a sense of quiet humility at the heart of the event. Fewer spectators than usual dressed in tuxedos and dresses. Much more was lost during this time than a “ringing cycle,” and that cloud seemed to hang over the shoulders of the returning audience.
That thoughtful atmosphere made Verdi’s ‘Macbeth’ a great start to the season, with his needless deaths at the hands of those who cared only for their own power. New production from director Sir David McVicar, set designer John Macfarlane and lighting designer David Finn took us to an underworld of betrayal against humanity in which Shakespeare’s famous tale resonated with familiarity. On the podium of his first official evening as Music Director was Enrique Mazzola. Choirmaster Michael Black’s army of seventy-two of Chicago’s best singers created the massive sound and ethos required by Verdi to underline his nationalistic fervor, all soloists performed well, and the orchestra of the company has never been better in presenting the “Paris Version” of Verdi’s revised 1847 opera, which premiered in the French capital in 1865. During these twenty years, Verdi had made great strides in his journey to find a musical voice freed from the restrictions of the ethics of bel canto and the resulting changes. the score, along with the sections of the opera that performed too well in the original version to be deleted, create a landscape of upheaval that matches that of the story’s machinations.
Singing the titular antihero, bass baritone Craig Colclough was well suited for the role in every way. In her debut as his lady, Sondra Radvanovsky gave a performance that almost made one wonder if Verdi knew she would end up going with him and wrote it just for her. Vocally and histrionically, the role demands everything and, at the height of his powers, Radvanovsky is unstoppable. Christian Van Horn gave his usual multi-layered characterization. While his tune was delivered with a full-throated passion that made audiences spin, Van Horn’s size seemed to have caused him to be frequently placed above the stage of other principals, which may be responsible for a sometimes lack of balance during concerted sections of the score; his voice would have benefited from a greater presence in these proceedings. Tenor Joshua Guerrero’s Macduff provided the heart of the story, his playing more than enough to transfer to a top non-musical production of Shakespeare’s play, his brilliantly delivered tune to which one of the longest standing ovations responded. audience of the evening.
This production curls up in the dark, dirty corners of an old church shell, spilling out when the plot can no longer be hidden. While evocative, the lingering darkness, even when the stage was filled with backing vocals, kept me from seeing their faces, a flaw in an otherwise exquisite production that will hopefully be corrected. McVicar works harder than necessary to convince us that the story is about the children who will eventually wield the power of the throne. Three children roam the set, appearing to lead the action, react to the story, and sometimes embody characters that appear in visions; less of that could be more. A painting of Lady Macbeth with the children during one of Macbeth’s arias combat text. But that’s picking nits. McVicar made a bold choice and gave us something new and fresh. It’s his responsibility as a director, and he responded generously.
This production features both choir and orchestra, and it’s impossible not to see Mazzola’s energy and expertise as the driving force in it. Black’s chorus is still world class, but here they chew the text with a new hunger, bluntly in their word painting. There were times when the choir was clearly a conglomerate of soloists, coming together to tell a story in harmony, rather than a choir simply creating a homogeneous sound. This crowd of choirs lived the text. The orchestra seemed to be playing hard, but never covered the singers, which can be a challenge in this opera.
Lyric has opened this season – which we hope to see to the end, if the coronavirus allows – with production delivered at full throttle by everyone involved, from the lopsided duo at the heart of the drama to the backing vocalist so far. behind the pack that they were just another shadow on the board. This is a production where none of the artists are playing it safe. You can almost smell the blood. (Aaron Hunt)
Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 North Wacker, (312) 332-2244, lyricopera.org, $ 39- $ 319. Until October 9.