Pietà, rispetto, amore: Macbeth at the Palau de les Arts, València

Verdi – Macbeth

Macbeth – Plácido Domingo

Banquo – Alexander Vinogradov

Lady Macbeth – Yekaterina Semenchuk

Dama – Federica Alfano

Macduff – Giorgio Berrugi

Malcolm – Fabián Lara

Medico – Lluís Martínez

Sicario – Pablo Aranday

Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana, Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana / Henrik Nánási.

Stage director – Peter Stein

Palau de les Arts, València.  Friday, December 11th, 2015.

Visiting the splendid Palau de les Arts and the wonderful city of València is always a privilege.  This is another house where the welcome is so friendly that I am always made to feel at home.  One interesting feature that may be of interest to potential visitors is the intermission catering.  There is a buffet available for EUR12 that consists of unlimited beverages, salty and sweet canapés, sandwiches and sushi.  Tickets can be purchased before the show from welcome desks in the foyer.

 © Tito Baeza
© Tito Baeza

Tonight’s Macbeth was a revival of the production from Rome, Italy which in turn was based on a production from the Salzburg Festival.  Revived tonight by Carlo Bellamio it made for an adequate framework for the action if not a particularly innovative one.  There was a simplicity to the visuals based on clean, angular lines that at its best, as in the Sleepwalking scene, really focused on the characters and made for an atmospheric background.  Where it was let down was in the Personenregie.  The opening witches’ chorus was staged with the ladies dressed as trees perambulating endlessly in circles.  Later, the chorus would often be processed on and off stage with their arms raised in meaningful supplication, and when needing to mark a moment of great significance, would be re-arranged en masse around the stage.  Costumes (Anna Maria Heinreich) were medieval chic and the lighting (Joachim Barth) really helped in creating a primeval atmosphere.  There was certainly gore with bloody bodies being brought on and off but compared to Loy’s in Geneva or Carsen’s in Berlin, I’m not convinced this staging really had very much to say.

© Tito Baeza
© Tito Baeza

Vocally, the evening was dominated by Yekaterina Semenchuk’s commanding Lady Macbeth.  Semenchuk is one of those singers who is tremendous value but always manages to stay on the moderate side of tasteful.  Her mezzo is big and bold and she turned the corners with the agility of a Bentley.  The range of the part held no terrors and her no holds barred singing was undeniably exciting.  Her legato is smooth and the tone rich if ever so slightly plummy.  We got both verses of ‘or tutti sorgete’ but the second wasn’t ornamented sadly.  She sang ‘la luce langue’ with endlessly long lines and sustained the sleepwalking scene splendidly.  She went for the D-flat at the end and if it was more of a miss than a hit, she certainly deserves credit for attempting it.

© Tito Baeza
© Tito Baeza

Plácido Domingo is without doubt one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century though it’s clear the voice is not longer what it was.  It’s primarily a question of vocal colour – he still sounds like a tenor and when paired with a singer like Giorgio Berrugi, who sounds like a younger version of the man himself, it certainly affected the balance of the piece.  Domingo lacked the power for the declamatory writing in the banquet scene and the line was often lumpy, aspirates compensating for support for the legato in a way that became quickly tiresome.  And yet despite this, he has an understanding of this music that can only come with a lifetime of exposure.  He sang ‘pietà, rispetto, amore’ with genuine dignity.  Yes, the tone is arid at the bottom and the phrasing choppy but I left the theatre with gratitude for a great career but also with regret that that great instrument we once knew is no more.

© Tito Baeza
© Tito Baeza

Berrugi certainly has a youthful tenor of serious promise.  Pitch can be saggy but he gave us an ‘ah la paterna mano’ that was generously phrased and vocalized if somewhat mannered.  Alexander Vinogradov sang Banco with a fabulously resonant and ample bass, phrasing his aria with care and a genuine legato.  The remainder of the cast was testament to the extremely high standards of the house with a number of the supporting roles cast from members of the Palau’s young artists program.  One of these artists was Federica Alfano, who despite not having much to do as the Dama, gave notice of a serious voice with her contributions to the ensemble in the Act 1 finale.

© Tito Baeza
© Tito Baeza

As always, the jewel in the crown of this marvellous theatre is its glorious chorus.  One would have to go a long way to hear a chorus of this quality.  It seemed that whenever they appeared, the temperature on stage rose exponentially.  They have magnificent unanimity of tone – no dreadful war of vibratos here – and the depth of that tone as heard in ‘patria oppressa’ was ravishing.  They were absolutely unanimous in their responsiveness to every effect asked of them.  The youthful house orchestra was also absolutely unanimous in its approach to the music, playing with precise ensemble and easy virtuosity.  Henrik Nánási’s conducting was curious.  Both the overture and the start of Act 3 started with great vigour and certainly the moments with the chorus alone had real energy but it felt that he had to pull back far too often to accommodate Domingo with tempi that had a tendency to sag.  There were some awkward gear changes and his conducting seemed to neglect a longer view of the work’s architecture.  Nánási is young and has a lot of promise so this is surely something that can come with time.

Tonight definitely reflected the very high musical standards this house sets for itself.  The house forces really are a credit to the institution and are undoubtedly worth travelling a long way to hear.  We were given a commanding Lady Macbeth by a singer who was undeniably exciting yet never grotesque.  We were also introduced to an exciting new tenor who certainly has a lot to offer.  Tonight, I appreciated being able to see one of the greatest artists of the last century demonstrating precisely that profound understanding of the Verdian style that comes with a lifetime of experience even if now, it’s surely time for Maestro Domingo to use his time to pass this knowledge on to the next generation.


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