Saturday, June 18, 2016

Opera Platform - Verdi "Macbeth" from Latvia

     In an intermission interview Viesturs Meiksans, the director for this production of Verdi's "Macbeth" from Latvia made a comment that he felt that evil and good are a part of the human condition.  We are not pushed into evil by some outside force - like devils or witches - both evil and good are inside of us all. I don't disagree with this insight, but it does explain I suppose why this production puts the women of the witches chorus in the pit and they are invisible on stage.  Macbeth and Banquo just are conversing with the air.  It might have worked better if it were a personal conversation - just Macbeth and the Weird Sisters for example.  But since there are two of them it just didn't work for me at all.  True, both good and evil are a part of all of us, but for me this director missed the point of the Weird Sisters.  In the Shakespeare play the three witches are not evil, and neither are they good.  They do not push or inspire the action that follows.  They simply predict or anticipate the future.  Initially predicting that Macbeth will be made Thane of Cawdor this comes true immediately and it is Macbeth (inspired and pushed by his wife, Lady Macbeth) that takes it upon himself to enact the other predictions in a violent manner. The Weird Sisters are not evil, rather I think they represent fate and whatever they predict cannot be avoided, it will come to pass.  It is fate - Banquo will be the father of 7 kings, though not a king himself - Macbeth tries to change this and he cannot.  The director made one other comment which I think is completely wrong: In Shakespeare there are three witches and (according to him) Lady Macbeth makes the 4th. I am not sure I quite understand the significance of the number "4" in this case.  But I feel that this director really does not understand Shakespeare in general or this play in particular.  Lady Macbeth is a driving force, she pushes her husband to take fate into his own hands and to accomplish the predictions through violence.  For all of their colorful incantations the Weird Sisters never do anything of the sort.  They are rather a more colorful variation on the Norns, brew a caldron instead of weaving threads of fate. Lady Macbeth and her husband try and fail to master fate and in the process they destroy themselves and a nation.  Returning to the production then for me the least effective scenes were the ones with the Weird Sisters, in my opinion.  This includes not only the first scene but the famous scene with the apparitions, which despite the inclusion of the ballet (oddly choreographed, and what was up with the zombies - no Weird Sisters, but zombies instead - huh?  Didn't get this) these scenes simply fell flat.
     But, on the other hand, the remainder of the production was, in my view, rather effective and profoundly moving.  The murder of Macduff's family is not a part of the opera - though it is a horrific part of the play - usually we get the aria where Macduff has just found out about it and then sings of his reaction.  I find this beautiful aria is usually not up to the task of conveying the horror and grief of the revelation in general, depending on the actor the scene Shakespeare wrote is much more powerful.  Even so, this production included a silent depiction of this murder and it was harrowing and effective.  What followed was the incredible refugee chorus (performed magnificently by the outstanding Latvian Opera chorus) and then the aforementioned aria, which I thought was slightly more effective for having a fresh experience of seeing the murders on stage.  In the context of the horrible refugee crisis in our world today - a crisis that most Americans would prefer to ignore and no one really knows how to address - I found this scene to be extremely poignant and moving.  "Patria oppressa" indeed! In the way that England in the play comes to the aid of Malcolm, Macduff and the Scots it seems to me we in the wealthy west have a responsibility of these refugees, who we helped create.
     The murder of Banquo and his subsequent appearance was also quite effective.  The murder itself was kind of creepy and Macbeth's party breakdown was very well done.  It was effective that he spent most of the party scene trying to cover up the blood splatter from the murder with no success and that his lack of success is what prompts his meltdown.  This, of course, is one of the other major themes of the play - "what is done cannot be undone" - and the murder changes everything.  Nothing is the same.  I found the ending to be a bit disappointing - there was no fight, Macbeth just disappears.  The sleep walking scene was marred for me by the appearance of those 6 zombies.  The set and lighting were effective and I did like the projections and the way that the cast could appear out of the projections.  It provided some interesting context and was effective.
     The almost all Russian cast was really quite excellent.  Vladislav Sulimsky was an excellent Macbeth and Tatiana Melnychenko certainly has the voice of Lady Macbeth.  Her acting however leaves much to be desired. I also really liked the Banquo of Romans Polisadovs but found Sergey Polyakov's Macduff to be rather dull, his acting was similarly nonexistent. The supporting cast were good.  The star of this production however was the chorus without a doubt.  They were simply fantastic.  The orchestra was good, but they had their moments of shaky intonation and inaccuracy and ensemble problems.  The conducting of Martins Ozolins seemed adequate but that is the best I can say.
     This coming week I will be attending a live performance of Macbeth performed by Opera Theater of St. Louis.  After this experience it will be interesting to compare.

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