Review: MACBETH (Opera)

by Lynn on May 17, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont. Produced by the Canadian Opera Company. Playing May 17, 20, 2023.

By Giuseppe Verdi

Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave (with additions by Andrea Maffei)

Based on the “tragedy” (really?) of William Shakespeare

Conductor, Speranza Scappucci

Director, Sir David McVicar

Set by John Macfarlane

Costumes by Moritz Junge

Lighting by David Finn

Choreographer, Andrew George

Cast: Matthew Cairns

Tracy Cantin

Clarence Frazer

Vartan Gabrielian

Alex Halliday

Quinn Kelsey

Őnay Kőse

Adam Luther

Midori Marsh

Liudmyla Monastyrska (May 17, 20)

Alexandrina Pendatchanska

Roland Piers

Charlotte Siegel

Giles Tomkins

Stunning in every way.

NOTE: Opera is not my forte so I won’t be discussing the music, orchestra, playing or the technicalities of singing. I will be discussing the theatricality of the piece.

The story is basically the same with a few trims and edits here and there. Macbeth is a violent soldier in battle. On his way home he sees ‘three’ witches who prophecy that he will become king, a prospect that never occurred to him. Not patient to wait things out, he kills his way to the crown, aided by his supportive, equally strong-willed wife. But things turn sideways for both of them and it ends badly.

I question that it’s a tragedy because neither Shakespeare nor Verdi’s opera has an ‘uh-oh’ scene. It’s that scene, when the protagonist realizes too late (uh-oh), that he’s made a mistake and things can’t really be righted. King Lear realizes that Cordelia really loved him (uh-oh) and he regrets banishing her. Oedipus puts a curse on the person responsible for his kingdom’s bad luck, only to realize (uh-oh) he’s the one responsible. It was prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother, and without realizing it (uh-oh) it came to pass. Without that uh-oh scene you have ‘merely’ a drama, and in the case or Macbeth, a bloody good one.  

Director Sir David McVicar has the guts and daring of a bandit. Rather than set the opera in the wilds of the Scottish countryside, he’s set it inside a church. Designer John Macfarlane has a forbidding church with it’s unmistakable cross on the top painted on the scrim. When the curtain rises we are in the dark sanctuary with a cross up at the back. The pews are full of women in black long dresses, holding their bibles, swaying back and forth, as if in a frenzied trance. There are three ever-present children, who could be symbolically the witches—they stare demonically. But it’s really the women who are the witches. One thinks of the Salem witch hunts in Massachusetts, or Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.  

In the scene where Banquo is murdered, it happens in the church and he’s bludgeoned with the cross. As I said, director Sir David McVicar has the guts of a bandit to place the murder there and by the means that it happens. Is McVicar commenting on the hold of the church on people’s lives, to do damage, to control how they think and act? Interesting.

David Finn’s moody lighting is stunning. Shafts of silver light sharply illuminate areas of the black set, and in other areas there is shadow and gloom. The shafts of light are so vivid and stark that in their way there is a sense of terror and doom.

As I said I’m not qualified to comment on the music, conducting or the singing. But….Quinn Kelsey is an imposing Macbeth. He is an actor who can inhabit this killing machine, but also reveal his cold-blooded ambition and his hesitation and horror when he kills the king to get closer to the crown. As the mistakes pile up in his quest to keep the crown, a desperation takes over.

No one can deny the explosion of crystalline sound that is produced by Alexandrina Pendatchanska as lady Macbeth. She is fearless, imposing and commanding when she is plotting her husband’s rise. As the opera goes on she is haunted by so many things, notably the blood she still sees on her hands. In the sleepwalking scene, hair wildly down her back, she is a sad soul, diminished and possessed. The acting is superb throughout.

While there is no Lady McDuff in the opera, there is McDuff sung by Matthew Cairns—heartbreaking and soul squeezing. McDuff is the grieving husband and father. He’s lost everything because of Macbeth and he will get revenge.

Macbeth is a triumph.

The Canadian Opera Company presents:

Playing May 20, 2023.

Running time: 3 hours (1 intermisson)

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