TO STAGE OR NOT TO STAGE – THAT’S THE QUESTION

Macbeth, opera of Giuseppe Verdi on a  libretto of Francesco Maria Piave, first performed at the Teatro alla Pergola in Florence om 14 march 1847. Based on the play of William Shakespeare. Semi-staged performance in the Teatro Real te Madrid on 17 july 2017.

Macbeth: Placido Domingo
Banco: Ildebrando D’Arcangelo
Lady Macbeth: Anna Pirozzi
Macduff: Brian Jagde
Malcolm: Airam Hernandez

Conductor: James Conlon
Staging: Justin Way en Nicolas Fischtel

Music:
Stage:

Placido Domingo

Placido Domingo

Anna Pirozzi

Anna Pirozzi

Ildebrando D´Arcangelo

Ildebrando D´Arcangelo

James Conlon

James Conlon

A series of three Macbeth performances in Madrid in July 2017 (11, 14, 17) was interesting for two aspects: the singer of the title role and the way the performances took place.

Macbeth was no one less than Placido Domingo who switched to the baritone repertoire in the autumn of his career. Macbeth is a role that suits him very well. He portrayed the King of Scotland as a man slavishly dependent on his power-obsessed wife who forces him to become a murderer. His acting is something else! He would be able to portray a character with his eyes only.

Domingo mastered the challenge tremendously well. Not only did he look much younger, but also his voice sounded very young, perfectly placed, and incredibly strong – an unforgettable evening for the audience in his birth town. In moments, when one thought “He must be getting out of breath in that killer aria” – he showed what years of experience and discipline render possible: he finished it, even putting some extra power on the final phrase, and still the sound came out so beautifully, that one could hardly believe this man is already 76. His final aria “Mal per me” was a lesson of excellence!

Lady Macbeth was the Italian dramatic soprano Anna Pirozzi. She was an equal opponent for Domingo, at least actingwise. Her facial expression changed from sweetest love to scary insanity within a fraction of a second. Her voice is dark, secure and strong enough to match the character of a black soul with an inferior attitude. Her notes were well placed – as long as they stayed in the lower, middle and “not too loud high” register. When she started to sing up, it became quite shrill at the top, at the border to ugliness. However, since she was such a complete actress, it may well be that she did that on purpose, since Verdi demanded a “rough, daemonic voice” for that role.

Banco was Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, whose bass-baritone is almost too beautiful for such a bloody opera: creamy and with an own colour of warmth. Only the last high notes in his “Come dal ciel precipita” gave him some difficulties.

Macduff was sung by Brian Jagde who could not really convince me. His voice was strong and filled the house easily, but somehow he did not find the balance between loudness and content of his important aria. “O la paterna mano” sounded rather joyful than painfully mourning about his family’s fate. His confederate Malcolm, sung by Airam Hernandez, was in the same league.

James Conlon conducted the orchestra of Teatro Real. He did it with ease, care – also for the singers’ needs –, and routine. He conducted solidly, but not overwhelmingly convincing “Verdian”.

And talking about missing: A staging was missing – or rather not!
In a recently aired radio interview, Placido Domingo talked about modern stagings that make no sense at all. He complained about stage directors who ask singers to do “impossible things without meaning”. He would therefore more and more favour opera performances in concert.
We do not know if he was the motor behind the Madrid Macbeth, announced as a “concert version”, but turned out to be a “semi-staged” one.
The (terrific!) chorus was sitting in the back of the stage, all dressed in black suits, but the women had three differently coloured scarves, which they used alternately: In all witches’ scenes, they wore red head scarves. In the Birnam forest they sung with green scarves around their waists, in the banquet scene they used golden scarves like sashes.
The main singers had a few utensils (crowns for the Royal couple, a sword, a lamp in the madness scene), some effective lightning – and this was enough to give the “concert performance” a special touch of pulsating action, and life. The singers were wandering around, acting as much as possible.
Interestingly, that concept worked very well!

If asked, I prefer this sort of concert to a fully staged so-called “modern” production. It is less infuriating, but certainly not less expressive than “avant-garde productions”, which often contain also only chairs as so-called “staging”, and black suits as “costumes”, but are certainly much more expensive. For me, it was definitely the better choice.

SOME INTERESTING ASPECTS:

– The first performance of this run (11th of July) marked Domingo’s 3.900th operatic performance!

– Banco’s son (silent role “Fleanzio”) was alternately played by his little grandsons Alvarito and Placidito (sons of Plácido’s son Alvaro). It was their “debut” together with Granddad in a mutual production.

– After the performance on the 17th, and after giving countless autographs, and granting photo posing sessions with his fans, at 1.00 at night, 76 years old Domingo walked away to have “dinner first, and then a recording session in a studio in Madrid”, before he left for Verona the next day, preparing his concert there on the 21st. (And I have no idea where he gets his physical and psychical power from!)

Gabi Eder (Published on 23/7/2017)

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