[Met Performance] CID:270640
New production
Macbeth {43} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/18/1982.

(Debuts: Karen Bureau, Christina Kumi Kimball, Peter Hall, John Bury, Stuart Hopps
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
November 18, 1982
New production


MACBETH {43}
Giuseppe Verdi--Francesco Maria Piave/Andrea Maffei

Macbeth.................Sherrill Milnes
Lady Macbeth............Renata Scotto
Banquo..................Ruggero Raimondi
Macduff.................Giuseppe Giacomini
Malcolm.................John Gilmore
Lady-in-Attendance......Karen Bureau [Debut]
Physician...............Julien Robbins
Manservant..............Talmage Harper
Duncan..................Andrew Murphy
Fleance.................Peter McCallum
Murderer................James Courtney
Herald..................James Brewer
Hecate..................Christina Kumi Kimball [Debut]
Warrior.................Russell Christopher
Bloody Child............Elyssa Lindner
Crowned Child...........Suzanne Der Derian
Spirit..................Pauline Andrey

Conductor...............James Levine

Production..............Peter Hall [Debut]
Designer................John Bury [Debut]
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler
Choreographer...........Stuart Hopps [Debut]

Macbeth received nineteen performances this season.

Production gift of the Edith C. Blum Foundation

Review of Manuela Hoelterhoff in the Wall Street Journal

The Met's New 'Macbeth': Halloween on the Heath

Macbeth - Shakespeare and Verdi's murderous general - describes life as a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The Metropolitan Opera's new production might be similarly described. It's filled with many sounds, some quite infuriating, and what it signifies, I don't know, but very likely nothing.

"Macbeth" represents Verdi's first successful tussle with the playwright he admired above all others. It is a powerful, darkly gleaming work that moves swiftly from heath to Birman Wood. Yet one went to the performance last Thursday - the first "Macbeth" in almost ten years - with a mixture of dread and anticipation. Renata Scotto has been singing erratically these last two years, and one feared her voice might go the way of Lady Macbeth's mind - out of focus and beyond retrieval. Still - the physical aspects of the opera seemed to be in extremely capable hands, with director Peter Hall (of Broadway's "Amadeus") and set designer John Bury, his frequent collaborator at London's Royal Shakespeare Company, both making their debuts.

This is not, admittedly, the easiest opera to stage. How, for instance, does one depict the weird sisters of witches, who hop about the heath upgrading Macbeth's curriculum vitae? They are grotesque, but not funny. A few years ago, Giorgio Strehler solved the problem brilliantly in a La Scala production that was seen at Kennedy Center: he put two witches into a single cloak with two slits for their heads, sat them down in the heath and had them sway back and forth in front of a wind machine that billowed out their costumes. They looked like deformed creatures thrown up from the bowels of hell.

At the Met, the witches sail though the nighttime sky on brooms attached to wires. The audience chuckled as one hag seemed to plummet behind a cliff. In a later scene, the creatures hold stuffed cats as they welcome their leader, Hecate, who arrives on stage wearing absolutely nothing but a little cloth patch beneath her stomach. This was greeted with boos, laughter and some rustling as people searched bags and laps for opera glasses.

In pre-performance interviews, Mr. Hall said he wanted to present the opera as it would have been staged in Verdi's day. I strongly doubt a nude Hecate would have been allowed out of her dressing room in Verdi's time, but never mind. The concept itself isn't particularly objectionable, if hardly original: The Met's "Luisa Miller" production has a similar premise. But a quaint, old-fashioned approach doesn't work for "Macbeth" because of the dominating phantasmagoria. Macbeth spends a good deal of time persecuted by the ghosts of his guilty conscience. A few scrims and projections could have evoked his horrible visions in a manner satisfying to modern audiences. At the Met the ghosts were either real people who emerged from trap doors or cartoon-like bug-eyed faces that popped out of the witches' cauldron. This was entertaining, but hardly in the spirit of the opera.

Another problem was that conductor James Levine chose to use the complete 1865 Paris version. The opera premiered in 1847, but Verdi rewrote several scenes for a Paris performance, adding , for example a ballet and replacing Macbeth's dying "Mal per me" with a chorus in praise of Malcolm and Macduff. By now it's common to use the later version, without the ballet. The Met, alas, gave us the ballet, thus slowing the opera's pace and adding more appalling humor to the evening's events, as a troupe of tutu-attired ballerinas from the shores of Swan Lake fluttered about the stage, clucking over Macbeth, who'd fortunately fainted before their arrival.

Sherrill Milnes has sung the title part many times - one hopes amid more serious surroundings - and though unbecomingly garbed in cumbersome outfits and carrying a sword that could have trimmed a barley field, he gave imposing dimension to this driven and desperate man. "Pieta Rispotto, Amore" was splendidly sung.

Still, the opera, like Macbeth, is dominated by Lady Macbeth - in this production a mad muppet with a bow in her hair. Given Ms. Scotto's short stature, that actually worked very well. She sang her first aria, rolling her eyes, writhing on the floor with her gown halfway up her legs. A number of high notes and downward runs were pretty hideous, and Ms. Scotto sings with more willpower than ease. But it was an interesting performance nevertheless.

Verdi does not give any other characters much to do. Giuseppe Giacomini as Macduff sang his scene in a full-throated fashion and Ruggero Raimondi lent his smooth bass effectively to Banquo's one aria. Mr. Levine offered some spectacular sounds, but the fact that he, as the Met's music director, approved this silly production, did cool one a bit to his efforts.



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