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In Review > International

Macbeth

GENEVA
Grand Théâtre de Genève
6/13/12

In Review Geneve Macbeth hdl 912
An extraordinary evening in Geneva: Larmore, Damiani and Carè in Macbeth
© GTG/Monika Rittershaus 2012

It was not without a certain sense of trepidation that the audience members took their seats in Geneva’s Grand Théâtre for Verdi’s Macbeth on June 13. The new production was conducted by Ingo Metzmacher and directed by Christof Loy, whose controversial reinterpretations of Verdi’s Les Vêpres Siciliennes and Rossini’s La Donna del Lago had caused consternation amid this conservative public. But Geneva’s new Macbeth turned out to be one of the finest productions of the European season.

Perhaps inspired by the security of Shakespeare and Verdi’s dramatic structure, the producer provided a classic reading of dense theatrical intensity, set against Jonas Dahlberg’s magnificent Hammer Horror gothic castle. The monochrome visual language extended to inky black blood in Loy’s shadowy, macabre domesticity. Lady Macbeth’s entrance at the top of the central staircase had the wispy paranormal thrill of a black-and-white Hitchcock movie, while the witches were a hyperactive group of cross-dressing castle staff members who relished the ingredients of their pernicious Act III brew with upfront realism. A jacket on the back of a chair was enough to drive Macbeth into paroxysms of paranoia — a moment typical of the exceptionally fine acting that the director drew from the entire cast, including the chorus, whose brooding “Patria oppressa” was of time-stopping intensity. No Loy production is complete without ballet music, and the uncut 1865 revised Paris version was used, but with Macbeth’s original monologue finale rather than the triumphal chorus. The controversial contemporary dance, which explored the subconscious life of Macbeth, did not read easily, but it was theatrical and exceptionally choreographed by Thomas Wilhelm.

Jennifer Larmore drew Lady Macbeth back toward its bel canto origins; while much ink is spilled over Verdi’s words on the need for theatrical realism in the role, the composer was nonetheless a stickler for vocal accuracy and counted on coloring and precise dynamics to create his musical effects. Larmore brought welcome accuracy to moments such as the brindisi, in which the trills and coloratura were sparklingly precise — a flashback to an earlier musical time. However, the performance was not low on milk-curdling venom. The mezzo seized on the text of her opening aria with relish, obeying the composer’s dynamic markings to the letter, but her voice remains essentially soft-grained: this was a Rossini Rosina turned nasty. Her performance was crowned by a whispered, hauntingly beautiful sleepwalking scene that benefited from Natalia Gavrilan’s unusually positive lady-in-waiting. 

Larmore’s Macbeth, Davide Damiani, was an equally strong vocal presence, but unlike Larmore’s, his performance did not always respect bel canto rules. Despite detailed phrasing, the baritone too often strove for overblown declamation at the expense of accurate intonation, and he sounded tired in his final aria. Damiani delivered a vivid portrayal of a man pushed toward serial killing. Completing the cast were bass Christian Van Horn (a sturdy Banco) and Andrea Carè (Macduff), whose dark-hued tenor made his aria more of a dramatic protest than a moment of pure lyricism.

Metzmacher held the evening in a grip of demonic power and suppressed energy, emphasizing the modernity of the opera and drawing precise playing from the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, whose matte texture echoed the chilling atmosphere of this extraordinary evening. spacer

STEPHEN J. MUDGE

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