Vancouver Opera

Verdi's Macbeth

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

Dates 25, 28, 30 November - 2 December 2006 at 19.30 Venue The Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Macbeth Greer Grimsley Lady Macbeth Jane Eaglen Banquo Burak Bilgili Macduff John Bellemer Malcolm Luc Robert

Conductor Jonathan Darlington Production Director Christopher Mattaliano Stage Director Garnett Bruce Lighting Robert Weirzel

Reviewer J H Stape

Not so many years ago James W. Wright, Vancouver Opera's General Director, spoke about "raising the company's artistic bar." On the evidence of the past season, and this splendidly sung and brilliantly directed production of Macbeth, which finally gets the 2006-07 season underway, he is that rare man who has achieved his dream. The "bar" now rests at a level to create the kind of buzz that fills seats (and coffers) and thus, one hopes, assure a steady stream of fine casts and innovative productions. Anyone in Vancouver with a serious interest in music theatre and not with a ticket already should be joining the queue at the box office for tickets for this Macbeth.

If the production doesn't quite live up to the hype as "edge-of-your-seat opera" (a risky advertising ploy), all the other elements make for a night in the theatre that won't soon be forgotten. No little role in creating this magic is owed to Jonathan Darlington's vivid and detailed reading of the score, the fine orchestral playing, and the superb achievement of the chorus, which is put to hard work throughout this opera and comes off gloriously, whether as the witches or as soldiers or as courtiers. Stars and big names draw in the public, but the basis of consistently fine opera remains a visionary chief at the helm and a reliable core of artists who play and perform in opera after opera.

That said, the other bright star of this performance is Greer Grimsley, whose Macbeth is simply a towering creation, well acted, excitingly sung, and lovingly crafted. With his exquisite technique and large and beautiful sound, Grimsley gave several dimensions to a character that was, in his hands, more Shakespeare's than Verdi's. Macbeth's big aria in the last act was show-stopping, and were Vancouverites not the tame lot they tend to be there would have been a riot in the theatre to hear it again. This was hair-raising singing in its passion, commitment, and musicality, elements central to this magnificent singer's performance throughout the evening.

Jane Eaglen's first Lady Macbeth was vocally and dramatically less intense. The voice, tastefully handled and unambiguously powerful, with that squillo character that usually has audiences on their feet, lacks colour, and her conception of the role had little bite or passion. True, she sang well, but -- and this is the burden of a "star" name -- not incandescently, and in a fine cast, whilst holding her own nobly, she neither dominated nor rose to Grimsley's austere heights. The Sleep Walking scene was muted -- correct and controlled rather than blow-your-socks off, and whilst urging Macbeth to murder Duncan the lack of edge was self-defeating. (By comparison see the young American soprano Cynthia Makris on You Tube for a passionate account of this scene that raises the heart beat.)

The other principals were outstanding. Burak Bilgili made a fine Banquo (killed off all too soon!), his baritonal basso ringing out with authority. A memorable Leporello last season, his Banquo is no less exciting, with secure, dynamic singing and dramatic values of a high order. John Bellemer in the smaller role of Macduff made an indelible mark in his single aria, "Ah, la paterno mano," movingly rendered. Possessed of a beautiful lyric tenor, Bellemer sang with elegance and polish, whilst Luc Robert was effective in the minor role of Malcolm.

The sets, with their dream-like quality and a suggestion of the evanescence of the physical world and certainly of power (Sic transit gloria mundi) seemed at times at odds with the costumes. The witches were a positive hoot: the munchkins meets Lord of the Rings. But far better this minor lapse, than the dead hand of the Metropolitan Opera with its dreary realism that has so long ruled the roost over North American opera productions. In this case, Viva Europa! and long may James W. Wright want to stay in Vancouver, rain, shine, or competition with the Rolling Stones (whose descent, with the snow, delayed the curtain for nearly a quarter of an hour).

If you like opera at all, even a little, make your way down to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and I'll wager you'll become a convert. Macbeth is not one of the public's big favourites -- this is the VO's first ever production -- but this is "grand opera" as it ought to be done: ambitious, in glorious voice, and delivering punch after knockdown punch theatrically.

© 2006 J H Stape