Theatrical tension

Verdi – Macbeth

Macbeth – Dimitris Tiliakos

Lady Macbeth – Violeta Urmana

Dama di Lady Macbeth – Marifé Nogales

Banco – Dmitry Ulyanov

Macduff – Stefano Secco

Malcolm – Alfredo Nigro

Coro y Orquesta Titulares del Teatro Real de Madrid / Teodor Currentzis.  Stage director – Dmitri Tcherniakov.

Teatro Real, Madrid, December 2nd, 2012.

Macbeth 4709

This was the Madrid premiere of a production that has already been seen in Paris and in Novosibirsk and which was subsequently released on DVD with pretty much the same cast.  There are many details that one does not actually notice on the DVD that one becomes aware of in the theatre, some good, other less so.  The one thing that distinguished this particular production was the direction of the singers.  Dmitri Tcherniakov (which I misspelt repeatedly in my twitter feed, my apologies for that) is very much a singers’ director and the action between the characters was very well set-up.  This was especially the case with the two principals, where the relationship between Macbeth and his Lady was vividly brought to life.  Tcherniakov also directed the chorus very well and they were clearly a group of individual characters who also, when required to, became a mass of humanity – both evil and good.  Yet it was also in the direction of the chorus that we came into one of the more serious issues of the production. Much of what Tcherniakov did in my opinion was unmusical – for example, in a number of ensembles (at the end of act 1 for example), he put the chorus in the pit with the principals and actors on stage.  The problem with this is that it completely compromised the balance and made it difficult to hear the principals, at least from where I was sitting.  At the very end Malcolm and Macduff were heard from offstage which considerably affected the impact of their lines, however, dramatically it was impressive to see Macbeth slumped on the floor with his house falling apart around him.  One final thing that I didn’t appreciate is that there were often moments, during pauses or rests, where some of the characters would sigh or scream loudly – this was just unnecessary and annoying.  The reaction to the staging was extremely mixed – there was a fair bit of booing but also a number of cheers for Tchernaikov.  Ultimately, for me, having also seen the DVD, I found it a decent enough production, well-executed with outstanding direction of the singers, yet also at times came in the way of the music rather than being at its service.

Musically, though it was a superb evening.  Lady Macbeth is a role that suits Violeta Urmana very well at this stage in her career.  ‘Vieni, t’affretta’ and ‘or tutti sorgete’ (only one verse of the cabaletta sadly) were not quite as elegantly done as they could have been but from there on in it was plain sailing.  She was absolutely magnificent, completely dominating the stage and fully inhabiting the character.  The banquet scene was particularly wonderful as she dispatched ‘si colmi il calice’ while doing magic tricks and not missing a single beat.  ‘La luce langue’ was also beautifully done as was the sleepwalking scene.    At first I found Dimitris Tiliakos’ Macbeth somewhat anonymous but he grew into the character and his final scene was extremely powerful.  What was even more powerful was Dmitry Ulyanov’s bass as Banquo.  He sang with a beautiful line and a massive sound – very impressive.  Stefano Secco’s Macduff was absolutely terrific – wonderful legato, sensitively shaded, fantastic attention to the text and sang completely, absolutely musically.  It’s the first time I have heard him live and I hope I’ll have the opportunity to hear him again very soon.  Smaller roles were absolutely fine.

The chorus at first was tentative and, as often happens on a first night, the opening chorus went a bit awry with coordination between stage and pit not quite unanimous but after that they warmed up and gave a heartfelt rendition of ‘patria oppressa’.  The orchestra played very well, the overall sound was a bit brass and percussion heavy but there was also a lot of delicacy there, especially in the string playing.  Theodor Currentzis’ conducting at first felt a bit stop-start and lacked flow but he soon got into his stride and gave a very good account of the piece.  It wasn’t quite as revelatory as Ingo Metzmacher in Geneva earlier this year but it was still worth hearing.

This was my second Macbeth of this year and certainly perhaps the most evenly-cast.  Strangely though, although at the time I didn’t quite appreciate Christof Loy’s production as much as I could have, I think on balance I preferred it to Tcherniakov’s, as looking back, now, I appreciate more the black and white, gothic movie esthetic that he was trying to create.  However, I wouldn’t want to forgo Tcherniakov’s outstanding direction of the singers.  That is perhaps the best thing about being able to see different productions of the same piece – one learns more about the piece but also gets to appreciate different viewpoints on the same masterpiece.

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