Scotch Mist: Macbeth at Opera Ballet Vlaanderen

Verdi – Macbeth

Macbeth – Craig Colclough
Banco – Tareq Nazmi
Lady Macbeth – Marina Prudenskaya
Dama – Wu Chia-Fen
Macduff – Najmiddin Mavlyanov
Malcolm – Michael J Scott
Medico – Donald Thomson
Sicario – Donald Thomson

Koor Oper Ballet Vlaanderen, Symfonisch Orkest Opera Ballet Vlaanderen / Paolo Carignani.
Stage director – Michael Thalheimer

Opera Ballet Vlaanderen, Antwerp, Flanders, Belgium.  Sunday, June 23rd, 2019.

Summer had definitely arrived in Antwerp, with blue skies and high temperatures, as I entered Opera Ballet Vlaanderen’s elegant Antwerp base for this matinee performance of Macbeth.  On stage, however, the scene couldn’t have been more different.  We were transported into a dark, misty night on a Scottish moor, the mist from the stage penetrating into the auditorium as the audience took their seats.  For this new production, Michael Thalheimer sets the action in what looked at first sight to be a skate park.  As the evening progressed, it became clear that virtually all the action took place in the dip at the centre of the stage, almost as if the main couple was digging themselves deeper into a hole of their own making.  The chorus was generally marched on and parked around the top, commenting on the events below.

Photo: © Annemie Augustijns

It made for a visually engaging staging, dark and gory, with Thalheimer giving us some memorable stage pictures as a result – whether Banco’s bloodied corpse coming back to life as an apparition, or the witches gathering around Macbeth at the start of Act 3.  Similarly, the chorus of Scottish refugees brought the chorus into the heart of the action, creating a sense of desolation that I found most convincing.  There was, admittedly, a tendency to park the chorus statically on stage at times – making them for the most part a faceless group, rather than a corporate mass of individuals.  I must admit that I was also somewhat perplexed by how Thalheimer had Marina Prudenskaya’s Lady Macbeth deliver her opening scena as if swinging around in the wind with arms imitating windmills.  The constant presence of a witch suggested that perhaps Lady Macbeth was being manipulated by supernatural forces, although this element felt somewhat under-explored.  This was an extremely physically active staging for the principals, particularly for Craig Colclough’s Macbeth who was constantly running around the set.  Overall, however, I found it a very convincing piece of theatre.

Photo: © Annemie Augustijns

Musically, it was absolutely first rate, Opera Ballet Vlaanderen today proving themselves the equal of any lyric theatre in the world.  It was extraordinary to think that the entire cast was new to their roles for this run.  Throughout the cast, there was a sense of deep understanding of the work and the idiom, led by Paolo Carignani’s inspirational conducting.  Carignani really understands this music and clearly believes in it, phrasing with much cantabile beauty.  Yet, he was also alive to the darkness of the score, with brass and lower strings staring into, and taking us into, the depths of hell.  He cultivated a big, full string sound, but also managed to point the rhythms, making them nicely springy.  The house orchestra was on thrilling form for him.  Every section played with virtuosic accuracy.  String intonation was impeccable, and the brass was excellent.  Jan Schweiger’s chorus also impressed with their precision of attack – the ladies coping effortlessly with some very lively tempi and the gentlemen dispatched the conspirator’s chorus with remarkable unanimity.  Tuning, especially in the unaccompanied section of the closing ensemble of Act 1, was immaculate.

Photo: © Annemie Augustijns

Prudenskaya gave us a sensational Lady Macbeth.  The voice seemingly defies gravity, absolutely even from top to bottom.  Her plush mezzo has wonderful roundness – she had clearly thought afresh about the text, investing the words in the sleepwalking scene with a striking array of vocal colour.  She dispatched ‘or tutti sorgete’ (one verse only) with ease.  She made some tasteful chesty incursions, though I wished she’d exploited it a bit more, and she (unsurprisingly) took the lower option at the end of the sleepwalking scene.  Prudenskaya’s Lady Macbeth was utterly commanding, extremely watchable and undeniably regal.  A major assumption.

Photo: © Annemie Augustijns

Colclough’s Macbeth was sung in a large resonant baritone with extremely solid musical instincts.  He sang ‘pietà, rispetto, amore’ with generosity, pulling back on the tone at the opening, yet never losing the core.  There was a little dryness in the sound towards the end, but despite the very active staging, Colclough always sang with style and an excellent sense of line.

Photo: © Annemie Augustijns

Tareq Nazmi’s Banco was outstanding.  His bass is exceptionally handsome, with liquid beauty and an immaculate legato, spinning seemingly endless lines.  Najmiddin Mavlyanov dispatched Macduff’s ‘paterna mano’ in a beefy tenor with Italianate ping.  There was a slight tendency to rawness at the very top but it’s a notable voice, certainly.  Michael J Scott sang Malcolm in a sandy tenor with somewhat Anglophone Italian.  Wu Chia-Fen brought her bright soprano to the role of the Dama, capping the ensembles with crystalline tone.

Photo: © Annemie Augustijns

Today’s Macbeth showed Opera Vlaanderen at its considerable best.  The show had been intelligently cast, was conducted with profound understanding and was superbly played and sung by the house forces.  We were given a cogent and visually imaginative staging that laid out the story in a logical and cohesive way, notable also for an astonishing assumption of the prima donna role by Prudenskaya.  It was received with an extremely generous ovation by the Antwerp public.

If you value the writing on this site, you can help expand its coverage by joining the Patreon community and helping to support independent writing on opera.  Alternatively, you can support with a one-off gesture via paypal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.