Text and Photos by: Yige Li
Opera in four acts
Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave and additions by Andrea Maffei, based on William Shakespeare's play of the same name
A Metropolitan Opera production
This review is for the final dress rehearsal on September 20, 2014, at the Metropolitan Opera House, in New York City, NY.
Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Macbeth: Željko Lucic
Banquo: René Pape
Lady Macbeth: Anna Netrebko
Lady-in-Waiting to Lady Macbeth: Claudia Waite
A Servant of Macbeth: Christopher Job
Malcolm: Noah Baetge
Macduff: Joseph Calleja
A Murderer: Richard Bernstein
A Herald: Seth Malkin
A Doctor: James Courtney
Production: Adrian Noble
Set & Costume Designer: Mark Thompson
Lighting Designer: Jean Kalman
Choreographer: Sue Lefton
If you want to find beautiful singing, go for the “Macbeth” in MET! If you want to find imaginative singing, go for the “Macbeth” in MET! If you want to find fearless singing, go for the “Macbeth” in MET!
Though, after three seasons, Anna Netrebko is not scheduled to perform in the opening night this time, the “Macbeth” she involves in attracts no less attention. Having successfully made several role debuts in heavier parts, for her, Lady Macbeth is the heaviest among them. With only two performances (in Munich earlier this year) in her pocket, what will she achieve in this MET revival (with a global live in HD transmission)? Everyone is interested to see.
I thought I could build it up in my mind of how Anya’s performance would be, since I have the following advantages: I am familiar with her previous works; I watched the video highlight posted by Bayerische Staatsoper on YouTube; I got a copy of pirate recording of Munich performance and listened to it many times; I talked to my friend attended the Munich performance and asked about many stage details; and finally, I watched the previous runs of this MET production both on DVD and live. However, I was wrong.
The production of Bayerische Staatsoper is a highly Regietheater one that it has very specific requirements for Lady Macbeth’s character, while the MET production is basically a classical production (with period updating). This means that singers could have more freedom on characterization. And, indeed, Anya took this advantage.
This Lady Macbeth was different from the first sight with a blonde wig. When seeing Anya’s picture of trying out the wig, I did not like the idea. I guess I am not alone as most of us prefer Anya in her own hair color. But seeing it in theater changed my mind. Visually speaking, in a dark stage that copes the atmosphere of the drama, a shiny blonde wig gives a proper focus. Then, character wise, this staging makes full use of the “blonde stereotype”.
And that’s where Anya has the characterization begins. After the familiar opening orchestra, we saw Lady Macbeth in her silky blonde hair (yes, hair--Anya’s wig, but Lady’s hair) and her silky light pajama. Using a voice with even a little bit joking color, she read the letter. Then came the cavatina and cabaletta. Name what you want: Various coloring? Solid high notes? Dramatic coloratura? You just could get everything. And she sang the “Or tutti sorgete, ministri infernali” with the repeat. In the beginning of the repeating part, she laid on the ground and sang with a sense of holding back than bloomed out to full fire--more than the already-fiery first part--later on. The repeating was played not only as a vehicle displaying Anya’s super vocal ability, but, more importantly, was treated as an organic part of the drama. And with all the exciting air she created, there was a weird sense of silliness existing (maybe because of the straightforward rendition and also partially due to the help of “blonde stereotype”?), as if this lady had no real sense of the thing she thought she was ambitious about.
The “blonde stereotype” became even more after Macbeth came onto the stage. This must be the sexiest Lady. And there was even some sweetness in the singing. Think about the Erlking’s vocal line in Schubert’s “Der Erlkönig”--soft, sweet, and charming--one would be enchanted to do whatever asked even knowing the danger behind. And with Željko Lucic, Anya made plenty of chemistry. She colored her voice phrase by phrase illustrated the psychological development. Just check the several “follie” in her line showing how Lady’s mind swung.
Lady’s next out was after King Duncan was found murdered. I always think it a challenge for directors and singers to make this part reasonable. Here, Lady’s line is very consistent to all the others’ mourning the king’s death. But the question is, should she, who involved in the murdering, in the same mood with all the others? If she is just pretending, how should the singer makes the audience realize that she’s pretending and feel she does a great job on pretending? In this performance, the way they chose to solve the problem is to play it as Lady is really in the same mood as others, which could make sense considering the little light minded image she was characterized earlier on, plus, that this could very possibly be the first time for Lady seeing a person killed (as opposite to Macbeth who has experiences in wars). As a result, we got hearing some very pretty singing together with those high notes cutting through the chorus that everyone expected.
While changes began to take place.
In Act 2 Scene 1, we saw Lady had her hair tied up and was in business casual, as opposite to the loose hair and pajama in Act 1. This is a stronger and more serious Lady than previously in Act 1. After some short and intense exchanging between Macbeth and Lady came another “hit”--“La luce langue”. Tremendous as it ended, I felt even more excited listening to how Anya made the opening even muddy, and then how she skillfully paced it to full expansion. In my mind, I even could see a black rose blooming in a foggy wasteland--a true miracle.
Lady Macbeth was in her strongest mind in Act 2 Scene 3. Having the hair still tied up, this time, Lady was wearing a crown and a glamorous red gown. Here, Anya sang the brindisi with the fullest voice, with the intensity and agility attacking down all the high notes and going through the coloratura, with the ambition and pride for the power. As Macbeth began to crack down, it was this strong woman that hold the situation.
But, maybe it has been too much for the Lady?
Hence, when we got to Act 3, Lady’s hair was back to the style in Act 1. Seeing how she rushed to Macbeth, and sang with urgency, I felt love, though a weird kind, between them. She was still encouraging her husband and the singing was still strong but having less confidence and more stress than the previous act.
And Lady’s final ruin came as the famous sleepwalking scene. Here the hair changed again. It was still the loose blonde hair, but it lost the shiny smooth quality and became dirty and somehow tangled. Many may know from the previous runs of this production that in the opening of this scene, the singer of Lady Macbeth is asked to walk on some chairs. I had always been fascinated by how much Anya’s eyes could express. And this must be the first time I could not find anything in her eyes, is if she was blind. Then, she sang. Fearlessly she sang, to illustrate fear of the lady, with evenly expressive voice from lower register to top and phenomenal crescendo and diminuendo. And the way she had the line floating was masterful. Acting wise, she had it limited, but was crazy within the economical movements, and the result was convincing.
Together with Anya onstage were some best singers for these roles--the cast could very well be in a season opening or a new production gala opening.
Zeljko Lucic was in the title role. He might be the most important Macbeth in opera world today, having a true dramatic voice with the timbre required for the role. Apparently, he was comfortable in his part and was very familiar with it--he not only sang a lot in Macbeth around the world but also did the role of Macbeth when this production was created. Compared to Anya’s strong make-up, Mr. Lucic’s make-up was light. And with the stage light, it looked somehow pale. Together with the grey hair, the contrast and complex relation between Macbeth and Lady were visually illustrated well.
Having Rene Pape as Banquo and Joseph Calleja as Macduff is just luxurious. I could give no more than praising their great singing. Though other than the several beautiful arias, Verdi granted them little to shine through.
The chorus was a lesson of how opera chorus, different to symphony chorus or church chorus, should sing. I remember last season when Maestro Muti did “Macbeth” with Chicago Symphony Orchestra, there was an article about his rehearsal in which quoted his words to the chorus that in an opera, they should sound like being an ensemble of individuals not a simple one voice. And that was exactly the impression I got from the MET chorus in this “Macbeth”.
In the pit, Fabio Luisi leaded a solid playing of orchestra. However, I did experience something more exciting than this. It was a concert performance of “Macbeth” conducted by Maestro Muti in Chicago last year. But, well, just no one today can touch Maestro Muti in this repertoire. And I think another thing is that though MET orchestra has no less virtuosity than CSO, they, when sitting in the pit behaved more like an accompanist, while CSO, in a concert version performance, played on stage as if a narrator of the drama. Here, the stars were the singers onstage being their characters; while in the Chicago performance last year, the definite star is the orchestra (if we excluded conductor, since he did not produce any sound directly), and singers sounds more like part of the orchestration.
The question remains to me if the star individual characters could be combined with the star ensemble orchestra or they are essentially exclusive. Maybe I would get the answer when we have Anya collaborate with Maestro Muti. Please! And it would be even better in a new Regietheater production crafted for Anya. Then may we be able to hope a classics as the Red Dress Traviata? Anya has done a lot of great singing and acting since the 2005 Salzburg Traviata, but just none of them could have everything being just unique and “right”. It is not something one could achieve by just doing her own part great. It needed certain repertoire (some roles just have less potentials than others), certain partners, and certain, let us admit it, luck. And for this role of Lady Macbeth, I see the potential of building up something original and unique around it. Hope we could have the luck to really see it happens.