Sunday, January 16, 2011

Brilliant Macbeth

The play of course is brilliant.  so is the opera.  but not all interpretations of the play or the opera are brilliant.  The one i saw today was.

This is the opera, which i certainly don't know as well as I know the play, but I'd seen at least 3 productions of it.  They were fine.  They were well sung.  But they didn't hold a candle to this.

I wasn't expecting it.  I expected to like it, yes.  but to like it for what it was--a semistaged version done by the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras.  Kids.  kids between 7 and 18. I did learn beforehand that the kids were "only" the orchestra, and that the singers were professionals.  I had already bought my ($25) ticket, even when i thought the singers would be young teenagers, so this pleased me.  still i didn't expect great singing; good singing, yes.  a passable production, yes.  a worthwhile experience, certainly.  but not a mind-blowing one.

When i saw the orchestra, i wondered how even 'semistaged' it would be.  It was a large orchestra on a moderate-sized stage (Sanders Theatre in Harvard), and there was a space of maybe 2 feet left in front of the huge orchestra.  I am a big fan of semi-staging, which mediates between the expense and space needs of a fullscale production and the bare-bones nonstaging of pure concert opera.  but semistaging still needs some room to move, and i wasn't expecting to see a lot of acting in  this production.

so there i was, in the 3rd row center orchestra, thinking wryly that this unusual circumstance would probably be wasted on what would doubtless be a minimally acted, near concert-opera.  

And then came the singers.  and what they did with that tiny space was so amazing, i soon forgot the 2 feet of space and even the presence of the orchestra (the terrific orchestra) behind it.  The stage director, Marc Verzatt, knows his craft.  So do the singers.  They were all astoundingly fine singer/actors.  From the moment Macbeth and Banquo walked onto the stage, it crackled.  here were these guys in tuxes, with nothing but capes and swords to suggest medieval Scotland, and  they were utterly convincing.  everything about them conveyed the surface camaraderie of two very different men facing the bizarre predictions of 3 witches.  and the voices!  Oddly none of the singers were ones i was familiar with--boston has several terrific opera singers that you tend to see in local productions fairly often--and their  bio's suggest respectable but not first-tier backgrounds.  Of course, I'm not a stellar judge of opera singers or classical music, but i saw that the rest of the audience were as blown away as i was.  i found their voices magnificent--true, clear, moving.  Louis Otey, a baritone, was maybe a bit overblown at times: sometimes he seemed to be playing an opera singer playing macbeth.  with that voice, he's entitled. Jeremy Milner, a bass, lacked even that much imperfection.  he exuded likeableness, charm, and a sharp trueness to his character.  then came the scene between lady macbeth and macbeth.  

diana jackson is listed as a soprano, but i thought i was hearing a great mezzo.  i liked the darkness of the 3 lower-register voices beginning the opera: reflecting the darkness of the story.  then i read in the program that she had been a mezzo who studied Hochdramatschsopran, which I'm guessing translates to high dramatic soprano.  it explained a lot: her perfectly lower ranged beginnings, and the high notes she reached and held when they were called for.  like Milner, she is totally charismatic.  

That scene was staged intriguingly.  It's a truism that part of the hold Lady M  has over her husband is sexual, but somehow that's always seemed a step removed from the plot itself.  There's a sense that the sexual dynamic is one of manipulation: she uses his desire for her as a means to get him over his compunctions about killing the king.  here the 2 forces were mesmerizingly inextricable.  nothing was overdone--no suggestive grappling or leering.  but you knew that the sexual bond between them was part of the plot: these two were turned on by the idea of murdering the king.  unsettling, and wonderful. when the second act was done and the intermission was to begin, we were all on our feet. people were drained; we had been totally pulled into the world of the opera.

the secondary characters were equally strong.  meredith kelly, as the queen's lady in waiting, had a voice as powerful and clean as jacklin's, and in the end of act 1, when all the significant characters were singing together in horror over the king's murder, there were moments when the 2 women's voices emerged from the others, magnificent together.   brian landry's macduff had nothing much to do in the first 3 acts, but started the 3rd with his aria about the murder of his wife and children. once again, perfection.  terrific tenor, carrying all the grief and anger in every syllable and every gesture.

the witches, interestingly, were sung by the [need i say terrific?] chorus, and danced by 3 women; how that came off well, i don't know, but it did.

so here i am, writing a review that few people will see about a production that lasted only one performance, meaning that even if you do read this you won't get a chance to see it.  but if you're remotely interested in opera or classical music, keep an eye on this group, and a lookout for these singers.  

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