Verdian magic

Verdi – Macbeth

Macbeth – Franco Vassallo

Lady Macbeth – Jennifer Larmore

Dama di Lady Macbeth – Natalia Gavrilan

Banco – Christian Van Horn

Macduff – Andrea Carè

Malcolm – Emilio Pons 

Choeur du Grand Théâtre de Genève

Orchestre de la Suisse Romande / Ingo Metzmacher.  Stage Director – Christof Loy. 

Grand Théâtre, Geneva.  Sunday, June 24th, 2012.

Geneva is an interesting city and one I don’t visit very often. Given how expensive Switzerland is in general, I chose to fly in for a matinee and fly out the same day. After enjoying a very nice lunch by the lake I headed over to the Grand théâtre to see Christof Loy’s production of Macbeth. There was a temperature of 25 degrees in Geneva and inside the theatre it was much hotter. They badly need air conditioning in there.

Fortunately what was happening on stage was equally hot and this was a thrilling afternoon of terrific singing, conducting and playing. Ingo Metzmacher was a real surprise. He has won plaudits in later repertoire but here it was brilliant. Tempi were nice and swift and the opening chorus was taken at a terrific lick. What was more impressive was that the ladies of the Grand théâtre’s chorus were in no way fazed by this and stayed exactly on the beat. He also coaxed some wonderfully full-bodied playing from the OSR. All in all it was an impressive reading.

Chief vocal honours must go to Jennifer Larmore’s Lady. She sang the piece as only a Rossini specialist can. Coloratura was nimble and she even ornamented her Act 1 cabaletta. The range of the part held no terrors for her and she crowned it all with a perfectly placed top D flat in the sleepwalking scene. Her tone has loosened somewhat with the years – the vibrato much wider than it used to be and the registers not always perfectly integrated but it was an impressive performance and stylistically spot on.

The rest of the cast met that exalted level. Franco Vassallo sang Macbeth with great depth of tone and easy legato and impeccable diction. He was a late addition to the cast but he still seemed perfectly at home in the production. Andrea Carè was a student of Pavarotti and he shares with his mentor a golden tone with good legato and clear diction. It isn’t perhaps an instantly recognizable voice but is very impressive and I would like to hear him again. In the smaller roles there was a very impressive Banquo from Christian Van Horn, a clear and promising Malcolm from Emilio Pons and a vocally distinctive lady in waiting from Natalia Gavrilan.

As I mentioned at the start, Ching-Lien Wu’s chorus covered themselves in glory. It’s actually one of the best opera choruses I have heard in a while. Blend was excellent, there was great amplitude, tuning was spot-on and they kept up wonderfully with Metzmacher’s swift tempi.

I don’t have a lot to say about the production. It was set in what seemed to be a Scottish country house in the 50s. There was a single set with a large staircase at the back and a large fireplace at the side. The witches appeared to be the palace servants and there was little difference in dress between the characters. It was barely lit. To be honest it all felt a bit lazy with apparently very little thought having gone into creating a coherent narrative. The ballets seemed to belong in a very different show although there was some pleasant enough male nudity. I was expecting much better from Loy.

Overall this was a musically distinctive performance with two superb performances in the leaning roles, choral singing and conducting. The Grand théâtre is certainly a house worth visiting – the sight lines are excellent but they really do need to install air conditioning.

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