Glitzy Accommodations: Macbeth from La Monnaie – De Munt

Verdi – Macbeth

Macbeth – Scott Hendricks
Banco – Carlo Colombara
Lady Macbeth – Béatrice Uria-Monzon
Dama – Lies Vandewege
Macduff – Andrew Richards
Malcolm – Julian Hubbard
Medico – Justin Hopkins
Sicario – Gérald Lavalle

Kooracademie van de Munt, Chœurs de la Monnaie, Symfonieorkest van de Munt / Paolo Carignani.
Stage director – Olivier Fredj.  Video director – Leonid Adamopoulos.

La Monnaie – De Munt, Muntpaleis op Tour & Taxis, Brussels, Belgium.  September 2016.  Streamed via De Munt – La Monnaie’s website.

This Macbeth took place when La Monnaie – De Munt was performing in a tent in Molenbeek, during the closure for renovations of their beautiful house on the Muntplein.  During this current closure, the theatre has made available a number of recent productions (including Warlikowski’s thrilling Contes d’Hoffmann – a must-see) to stream via their website.

Photo: © Bernd Uhlig

The stage direction of this Macbeth, a coproduction with the Teatr Wielki in Poznań, was confided to Olivier Fredj, a new name to me.  He creates, along with his creative team, a production based in incredibly vivid visuals, with video (Jean Lecointre) adding constant visual interest throughout – whether with projections relevant to characters’ words (for instance an owl in ‘la luce langue’), or more seemingly random imagery.  The set (Fredj, along with Gaspard Pinta and Massimo Troncanetti) is a glitzy grand hotel, with the action varying from being in the lobby, to the hotel spa, to the dining room.  Rather than use the chorus to guide the action, Fredj instead uses a corps of dancers to incarnate the witches, hotel staff, and various other characters.  The chorus instead sings from the pit with resulting balance issues, robbing their singing of impact, even on video.  At other times, as in the grand ensemble the meets the news of Duncan’s death, the chorus is seen in day clothes, singing from bleachers at the back of the stage.  While in ‘patria oppressa’ they sing from within the audience.  It seems that Fredj is making a point here but I’m not sure what it is.  Is it that Macbeth is being observed by the people who are aware of his deeds?  Or is to provoke reflections on the Macbeths who exist in society today?

Photo: © Bernd Uhlig

While, the staging looks good, and had clearly been exceptionally fluently rehearsed, there seems to be a focus on the instant visuals, rather than creating a cogent and convincing theatrical narrative.  That doesn’t mean that Fredj’s staging lacks interest.  The way that Lady Macbeth rings the hotel reception bell for attention just before she launces into ‘or tutti sorgete’ (one verse only) was quite ingenious.  Although having Macbeth and Lady Macbeth push around baby strollers at times felt disjointed to the remainder of the narrative.  Similarly, Lady Macbeth wears a striking variety of wigs – ranging from influences of Margaret Thatcher or Elizabeth I – but to what end, it’s hard to know.  I left with an impression of an entertaining evening in the theatre, if perhaps one that didn’t always answer the questions that it posed.

Photo: © Bernd Uhlig

Musically, it was solid.  Scott Hendricks offered us a stentorian Macbeth, sung in a sturdy baritone with an admirable sense of line.  He had enough in reserve for his big final scene, pouring out long phrases and never compromising on the integrity of the tone.  His Macbeth was clearly a man haunted by his deeds, desperately ambitious, yet needing encouragement from his wife to commit the ultimate crimes.  She was incarnated by Béatrice Uria-Monzon.  The French mezzo is an extremely fine actress, moving with confidence and agility around the stage.  She sang her music in suitably dark tone and managed to turn the corners, though perhaps with the agility of a Bentley rather than a Cinquecento.  Intonation was troublesome, however, consistently landing under the note, although Uria-Monzon did give us a full-voiced high D-flat at the end of the sleepwalking scene.

Photo: © Bernd Uhlig

The remainder of the cast reflected the high standards of the house.  Carlo Colombara sang a lugubrious Banco, with wonderfully resonant tone and an impeccable stylistic awareness – even occasionally adding some welcome embellishments to the line.  Andrew Richards sang Macduff’s big number with elegantly long phrases, although there was a tendency for tone to tighten higher up.  The house choruses sang with precision and admirable blend, despite being backwardly placed in the audio balance.

Photo: © Bernd Uhlig

The house orchestra was on terrific form for Paolo Carignani.  There were a few passages of sour string intonation in the more rapid-fire sections of the ballet, but these were passing.  The brass was magnificently imposing.  Carignani led a delightfully swift reading, founded a firm rhythmic footing that propelled the music along with indisputable momentum, but also found genuine sensitivity in the musings of ‘patria oppressa’ and rousing vigour in the subsequent ‘La patria tradita’.

Photo: © Bernd Uhlig

This Macbeth is certainly an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.  Solidly sung and conducted with unmistakable momentum, it offers a highly visual framework for the action.  There are certainly some ingenious touches, such as Banco’s head showing up in the food for the banquet, and the visuals are never less than engaging, but I’m not completely convinced that Fredj and his team succeed in creating a compelling narrative.  Still, it seems to have been warmly received by the Brussels public.

During this period of theatrical closures, crowdfunding support for has been put on hold.  I encourage you to investigate ways of supporting your local companies and artists while houses remain closed.  Both the Patreon and PayPal for the site will resume as soon as theatres open again.

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