Opera Scotland

Macbeth 2017Teatro Regio, Turin

Read more about the opera Macbeth

2017 being the 70th year of the Edinburgh Festival, the opera programme was a celebratory one with a distinctly expanded line-up of nine works. For the first time for ages, we had a residency by a major visiting company, the Teatro Regio, Torino, with Macbeth, the opera that opened that first Festival back in 1947, and La bohème. never before seen at the Festival, and a work that was launched at the old Teatro Regio back in 1896. Scottish Opera provided a new staging of Greek, Turnage's ground-breaking piece that was a Festival co-commission in 1988. There was also a strongly cast staging of Don Giovanni.

The operas to be performed in concert included Die Walküre, the second instalment of the Festival's four-year survey of the Ring, as well as Peter Grimes. The 450th anniversary of Monteverdi's birth was celebrated with a trilogy of concerts in which John Eliot Gardiner conducted L'OrfeoIl ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria and L'incoronazione di Poppea, seen together in Edinburgh for the first time since 1978.

There were three further events, not part of the opera programme, but which should be highlighted. No Festival visit is complete without enjoying a morning concert at the Queen's Hall. Here there was a prelude to the Monteverdi event in the form of Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda in a recently discovered transcription by Heinrich Schütz. The gloriously dramatic Damnation of Faust by Berlioz was performed by Mark Elder and the Hallé, while the Festival continued its exploration of rare Elgar with a revival of the cantata King Olaf.

The inclusion of La bohème in the Turin programme is likely to have been because the opera received its premiere there, in the previous theatre, in 1896. The presence of Macbeth is more because of its obvious Scottish aspect, and its association with the Festival itself. It was the first opera to be given at the 1947 Festival by Glyndebourne. At that time it was a rare piece, very little known anywhere, and receiving its Scottish premiere. Since then, Scottish Opera have presented it twice. The David Pountney staging of 1976 was conducted by Alexander Gibson. A second staging by Luc Bondy, under Richard Armstrong, appeared in 2000. Since then, the Festival has itself mounted two concert performances in 2003 and 2009. With this fourth staging Macbeth becomes one of the most frequently performed operas in the history of the Festival.

The first thing that needs to be said following the opening night of Macbeth is that the company's chorus and orchestra are quite superb. The massive ensembles that end the first two acts - the discovery of Duncan's murder and the confusion at the enforced ending of the banquet - had clearly been meticulously drilled by Gianandrea Noseda, and the Chorus of Exiles was superbly done. Noseda's conducting of the whole work was fierily dramatic and the evening sped past in a hugely enjoyable way.

One possible quibble lies over his choice of ending. In 1847 the opera closes with the protagonist, mortally wounded, gaining the energy to allow a last solo before he expires. In 1865, when he revised the piece for Paris, Verdi decided to axe this and finish with a victory hymn for massed chorus as Malcolm succeeds to the throne. As with Scottish Opera's last Festival staging in 2000, Noseda reinstates the first ending. The programme notes show the director to be perfectly happy with either option, though the learned essays seem to come down in favour of the final version with its undoubted 'feel-good' factor. A further small textual change comes early on, at the director's behest. Lady Macbeth does not actually read a letter - her husband has just popped in through the back door to tell her in person, it seems, thus setting things in motion more rapidly. This did seem unconvincing.

Of the first cast, Slovak baritone Dalibor Jenis, in the title role, made an excellent impression in 2014 as William Tell. This quality was now confirmed, and he is a good actor and an excellent Verdi stylist. His final big aria 'Pietà, rispetto amore' was elegantly sung, while he coped well with the added original  'Mal per me' finale. Anna Pirozzi, making her first appearance in Scotland, gave a beautifully sung account of Lady Macbeth - all the difficulties of her opening scene were met with ease and she was able to give a seriously considered performance all the way through, dominating the banquet scene as her husband collapses.

A young Croation bass, Marko Mimica, was a superb Banquo, with a lovely warm voice. He and Macbeth both seemed realistically youthful enough to be effective warriors. The same can be said of Piero Pretti as a heroically-voiced Macduff. Alexandra Zabala was an effective lady-in-waiting. Most of the shorter roles were well taken by choristers. Unusually, this also applies to the prominent role of Malcolm, but the axing of the finale leaves him with much less to do. Sabino Gaita was excellent, and, most importantly, had a vocal tone completely distinct from that of Macduff.

The production by Emma Dante had many excellent features, and on the whole worked consistently. She sees the element of witchcraft as vitally important, and fortunately understands that the cheerful triviality of the witches' music is a positive aspect rather than an embarrassment to be got over or even cut. They are having a great time, after all. Her other theme is that of children and heirs. The Macbeths have none, and Lady Macbeth in particular is emotionally twisted as a result. The witches, by contrast, have plenty. They spend their time in a constant state of pregnancy and childbirth - 'a deed without a name'. To this end they maintain a team of attendant male drones (the director describes them as 'well-endowed satyrs'), and the dance elements of the opening scene are largely letting copulation thrive (sorry, wrong play). When they re-appear in the third act the witches are all heavily pregnant, and proceed to give birth, with cauldrons as birthing pools and the men as midwives whose day job is then to staff the crèche - not just drones after all. This really works rather well. The only doubt creeps in during Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene, when she is pursued by a group of beds (no babies on board) which do distract from her singing - she had earlier been seen moving from bed to bed in sleepless nightmare.

The staging of the exiles scene was superb. Rows of corpses laid out on the stage and women coming on to shroud them. The chorus sings from the back, in darkness, almost disembodied. Macduff and Malcolm make their entries attempting to identify the dead. This was one of many effective scenes. Duncan was shown as a youthful figure, and much was made of the washing of his corpse, with appropriate Christian influences. The sets were simple - gold crown images (made of spears) lowered from the flies, with high-backed chairs (Pictish Rennie Mackintosh?) fitting together to provide steps, thrones and so on. Birnam Wood did look a bit odd - trolleys of prickly pear cacti, which are a familiar sight for the Sicilian production team, but less common in the wilds of Scotland. Even the warmest west coast areas like Plockton and Inverewe are probably too wet for them. Still, perhaps global warming will see to that. Otherwise, it all worked rather well.

Performance Cast

Macbeth a general in King Duncan's army

Dalibor Jenis (Aug 18, 20)

Gabriele Viviani (Aug 19)

Banquo a general in King Duncan's army

Marko Mimica

Lady Macbeth

Anna Pirozzi (Aug 18, 20)

Oksana Dyka (Aug 19)

Servant of Macbeth

Giuseppe Capoferri (Aug 18, 20)

Desaret Lika (Aug 19)

Macduff Thane of Fife

Piero Pretti

Malcolm son of King Duncan

Sabino Gaita (Aug 18, 20)

Alejandro Escobar (Aug 19)

Lady in waiting

Alexandra Zabala

Murderer

Marco Sportelli (Aug 18)

Davide Motta Fré (Aug 19, 20)

First Apparition

Lorenzo Battagion (Aug 18)

Riccardo Mattiotto (Aug 19, 20)

Second Apparition

Alexandra Zabala

Third Apparition

Elliott Osmond

Thomas Macfadyen

Doctor

Enrico Bava (Aug 18)

Lorenzo Battagion (Aug 19, 20)

Performance DatesMacbeth 2017

Map List

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

18 Aug, 19.15 19 Aug, 19.15 20 Aug, 17.00

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