Mac the Knife

Orson Welles, Macbeth, 1948

Mac the Knife

Macbeth, an opera in four parts, music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano, 3rd revival of director Phyllida Lloyd’s 2002 production, designs by Anthony Ward, Royal Opera, 25th March 2018, reviewed by LESLIE JONES

Franceso Maria Piave had the temerity to write the libretto for Macbeth, the opera, after Shakespeare’s play. To be fair, certain sections of the latter clearly benefit from editing, even elision, notably the tedious scene in which Macduff persuades Malcolm to rescue Scotland. Verdi reportedly took inordinate trouble over this work, which he considered “one of the greatest human creations!” (letter to Francesco Maria Piave, 4th September 1846). But to what extent did he emulate Shakespeare’s achievement?

The stagecraft of this production of Macbeth is somewhat indebted to Kabuki Theatre. Witness the the stylised and synchronised movements of the chorus and the minimalist décor. Ditto, the costumes, with their stark colour contrasts, notably the red turbans and black cloaks of the witches and the incongruous white apparel of Banquo’s assassins. But there was also Christian iconography – to wit, the bloodied, spread eagled corpse of Duncan and of the “crucified” Thane of Cawdor.

Symbolism is a salient feature. The recurrent appearance of a bed presumably bespeaks the couple’s inability to produce a child, which drives their lust for power. For as René Weis remarks (‘Enter the Lady’, Official Programme), Macbeth “is the tragedy of a man who cannot perpetuate himself by natural means…” And the gilded cage with a crown therein and the couple’s golden attire, supposedly denote the ultimate futility of ambition – “Unhappy lies the head that wears the crown”.

Verdi, unlike Shakespeare, emphasises Lady Macbeth’s ongoing villainy. Soprano Anna Netrebko, in the role, was in fine form and suitably demonic, as in Or tutti sorgete. Her voice has deepened and become even more powerful. There were no other stand out performances, for this commentator. But who can compete with a diva assoluta, in full flight?

Dr Leslie Jones is Editor of QR

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