Opera Scotland

Macbeth 2019English Touring Opera

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English Touring Opera's welcome annual visit to the Perth Festival of the Arts brought Verdi's great adaptation of the 'Scottish Play', a work they had not tackled before. It is also possible that this was the work's first performance in the city. Perth is a highly appropriate location - Dunsinane is a few minutes' drive to the east and Birnam Wood a mere dozen miles to the north. Scone, the location of ancient coronations and parliaments, is even closer.

The opera is full of wonderfully stirring music, and not just for the lead soloists. The chorus have several of Verdi's greatest hits, including the exiles' lament, and the witches have a thoroughly enjoyable time, with lots of jolly singing and dancing, while they create their havoc.  The rousingly celebratory chorus at the end is surely one of Verdi's most inspiring - but then he doesn't really 'do' happy endings, apart from Falstaff.

Having said that, there was still a sense of disappointment that this was the only full-scale operatic offering. Last year, in addition to the popular favourite (a distinctly routine and uninspiring Figaro), they brought a concert of dazzlingly virtuosic Rossini excerpts. This year they re-convened several of the same singers for a full production of one of those operas, Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra. They also mounted Mozart's glorious Idomeneo. Given that it was over twenty years since that masterwork was last staged in Scotland (though the Edinburgh Festival did give a memorable concert performance in 2010) and the Rossini had not been seen since 1972, it was a pity, to put it mildly, that neither of these works was seen in Perth.

The OperaScotland team happened to be in London in March and caught Idomeneo when it opened at the Hackney Empire. The company was on excellent form, which promised well for the Perth visit near the end of the tour. That promise was almost entirely fulfilled, with the small orchestra and chorus projecting Verdi's wonderfully varied score under the firm control of conductor Gerry Cornelius. James Dacre introduced some clever touches, scenes overlapping - we saw the murderers preparing for their attack on Banquo as the Lady sang La luce langue. There was early evidence of her mental disintegration with hints of her sleepwalking to come. Sensible ideas that were not overdone.

The imposing set provided by Frankie Bradshaw proved to be surprisingly adaptable, with sliding grey panels making the visual side more flexible than seemed likely when the curtain rose. The modern dress has become a bit of a cliché - army fatigues for the chorus, modern officers' dress uniforms for the principals. The surprise came right at the start, with the treatment of the witches. Were they nurses or maybe nuns? In the opening scene, two seriously wounded fugitives from the battle received their attentions and both died, perhaps helped on their way by the women.

The principals were generally excellent  Grant Doyle's voice has developed rewardingly, and he made an impressive protagonist - perhaps just a little bit too physically lively at times. Macbeth was receiving twenty-one performances during the tour, with Lady Macbeth scheduled to be taken by Madeleine Pierard at all but three of them. In the event, the second Lady, Tanya Hurst, usually cast as Lady-in-waiting, also took the lead on this occasion, and gave a hugely impressive performance. She coped magnificently with the difficult ornamentation of her musical line, and finished off her beautifully-controlled sleepwalking scene in fine style. The cover Lady-in-waiting, Jenny Stafford, slotted in without any problems.

Amar Muchhala was an impressive Macduff, while David Lynn, until recently at the Conservatoire in Glasgow, was excellent as Malcolm. Andrew Slater has been appearing with ETO for many years. The voice is inevitably less fresh than the others, and the vibrato was sometimes intrusive, but he still sings with style. Ed Hawkins made an immediate effect as the Doctor. Several of the chorus were able to take their uncredited opportunities as messengers, murderers, etc.

Popular as Macbeth undoubtedly is, it was given an enjoyable major staging (by the Turin Opera) as recently as the 2017 Edinburgh Festival. It is also, quite justifiably, a favourite with our various amateur groups. In those circumstances, its ability to attract opera-lovers to journey from the other cities was a challenge. It must be said that the audience assembled in the concert hall seemed a good bit smaller than expected. A great pity, as this enterprise was well worthwhile and showed a splendid return to form by a company that has, for many years, made an important contribution to operatic life in Scotland..

Performance Cast

Macbeth a general in King Duncan's army

Grant Doyle

Banquo a general in King Duncan's army

Andrew Slater

Lady Macbeth

Tanya Hurst

Macduff Thane of Fife

Amar Muchhala

Malcolm son of King Duncan

David Lynn

Lady in waiting

Jenny Stafford

Doctor

Ed Hawkins

Performance DatesMacbeth 2019

Map List

Perth Concert Hall | Perth

16 May, 19.30

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