Pacific Opera Victoria's Macbeth
When: Friday, tonight, Oct. 10, and 12, 8 p.m.; Oct. 14, 2: 30 p.m.
Where: Royal Theatre
Tickets: $37.50-$130, at the Royal and McPherson box offices, rmts.bc.ca, or 250-386-6121. $15 student rush tickets 45 minutes prior to each performance, subject to availability
On Thursday evening, Pacific Opera Victoria launched its 2012-13 season with Verdi's Macbeth, a work it has mounted once before, in 1995. First performed in 1847 and substantially revised in 1865, Verdi's opera is considerably leaner than Shakespeare's play; Duncan, the Scottish king, for instance, makes only brief appearances as man, corpse and ghost, and sings not a note. But the central story remains intact, if much distilled, and the action moves forward quickly, albeit at the expense of some beloved lines. (The English surtitles only occasionally quote or paraphrase Shakespeare.)
Verdi might have called this opera Lady Macbeth, since he gave so much of the best music to Mrs. M., and POV has cast a vocally and dramatically powerful soprano, Lyne Fortin, in this crucial role. Fortin's voice, which has a glamorous sheen as well as depth of tone, seems beautifully suited to a character at once seductive and ruthlessly ambitious, and she renders her big solo numbers, especially the poignant "sleepwalking aria," with impressive, sometimes ferocious, intensity.
Baritone Gregory Dahl, as Macbeth, is a commanding presence from the start, but really starts to come into his own in the banquet scene at the end of Act 2, as his character becomes unhinged, and he is particularly impressive in Acts 3 and 4, giving vent to Macbeth's mounting psychological fever.
Much-needed human warmth is supplied in solo numbers affectingly rendered by bass Alain Coulombe (Banquo's Act 2 romanza) and tenor Robert Clark (Macduff's Act 4 lament for his slain family), both of whom create sympathetic characters in a short space of time. The chorus - appearing variously as witches, murderers, citizens and soldiers - has an important role in this opera, and its numbers all register strongly here, most notably the great Act 4 lament of the oppressed Scottish people.
Clearly inspired by the subject matter, Verdi produced an orchestral part that, while economical and dark-hued, is extraordinarily vivid and frequently exciting, rife with striking details (and not only in the "fantastic" music for the witches). The Victoria Symphony, conducted by POV artistic director Timothy Vernon, attacks this score boldly and revels in its rich colours.
POV's production has a very experienced and celebrated playwright and director, Morris Panych, at its helm, though visually its elements do not all gel coherently. Ken MacDonald's spare set, in which tartan-like cross-hatching is a recurring motif, and the modernistic, "geometrical" quality of the set is underscored by the bold, bright colours of Alan Brodie's lighting (he occasionally bathes the stage in fittingly blood red lighting). But some other elements, both realistic and stylized in nature, seem to undercut the visual consistency; Dana Osborne's costumes, for instance, though attractive and appropriate, draw dissonantly on different historical periods.
Both intimate moments and crowd scenes are mostly staged deftly, and there are some especially striking tableau the witches at their witching, the discovery of Duncan's body, the killing of Banquo, the ghost's arrival at the banquet, the three apparitions, the slow-motion battle. The climactic mano-a-mano contest between Malcolm and Macbeth is stiff, however. (Stage swordfighters always appear to be sharpening each other's swords rather than actually trying to stab each other.)
A trap in the middle of the stage effectively serves multiple duty as grave, cauldron and all-purpose portal for the misty and infernal, and a scrim that is lowered downstage from time to time makes a considerable contribution to the stage picture - and sometimes adds to the visual inconsistency, too.
But the practice of using the scrim to project the production's credits and announce scene changes is unnecessary and cheesy, and should be banished to the Museum of Bad Ideas.
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