“Macbeth” in London: Netrebko, Lučić and Pappano mesmerize the audience

Saturday night, approaching magnificent Royal Opera House, I was wondering how lucky I have been at the opening of the spring season sale to get a ticket for the upcoming performance of “Macbeth” with stellar cast inclusive of Anna Netrebko, Željko Lučić, Ildebrando D’Archangelo and Yusif Eyvazov, conducted by incomparable Antonio Pappano. Today, while writing notes to the performance, sitting on the plane back home and listening to Netrebko’s Verdi album recorded some 5 years ago, I fully comprehend what a magnificent performance she delivered last night both vocally and dramatically. Her voice has changed and matured into full-bodied Verdian soprano with deeply resonating chest register, keeping vocal agility and chilling high notes and being able to cross from very top to threateningly low seamlessly. That creates an impression of many voices, not just colours at Netrebko’s possession. Until now I was under the perception that her best Verdi role is Leonora in “Il Trovatore” – but now there is another one, which is just incredible in live performance.

As there is cinema simulcast of Macbeth scheduled for next week (recording is shown on April 19th in Riga) I hope very much that this performance might get recorded for later release of DVD/ Blu-ray as it would be crucial to have it documented. If you have a chance and there is a showing nearby, try to get to see it!

The production is a revival of Phyllida Lloyd’s 2002 staging and certain elements show some old-fashioned style. The stage is mostly very dark Ritter-sport chocolate box with panels moving up and aside elaborately without any disturbing noise and a glittery rotating golden cage which serves for regal status determinant purposes. The status as well is confirmed by blindingly bright golden costumes for ruling kings.

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Witches of ROH chorus. Photo: © Tristram Kenton

The concept has put the witches as the central collective protagonist – they are ever-present and actually are running the show through melting prophecy, legend and reality into the heart-stopping blood-flooded tragedy of unconsoled heart – both her and him – unfulfilled dream of the happy family turns into the obsessive run for power and immortality.

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Lady Macbeth Anna Netrebko. Photo: © ROH, Bill Cooper

Anna Netrebko is the natural queen of the opera stage, and here she became the queen of the night taking audience hostage with her magnetic stage presence, vocal excellence and thoughtfully developed character of her heroine. She has built each aria and scene with great insight, the most surprising was her toast-aria Si colmi il calice di vino, delivering first part sweat, enthusiastic and cheerful, then turning into harsh, even ugly, a suffocated voice in the second part, filled with hatred and contempt.

In the entry aria she lacked expected filigree in coloratura and skipped a few of the notes, and it felt that some of the fans even exchanged troubled glances, while shortly her capability was restored, culminating in Act 2, and giving us both sharp coloratura as well as unmatched trills. The musical material that she has to cover during this night is extensive, and I can only admire her stamina – as all the colours she brought during sleepwalking scene did not show even the slightest hint of tiredness or exertion.

Her recorded Gran scena del sonnambulisma in the album gives an idea how she might grow into the character. There are piercingly painful high notes, quiet piani and full-bodied low notes, but not yet those of spine-chilling depth in her low register, almost as Verdi envisaged to have something devilish in the voice. So happy I am seeing her again soon – her debut as Tosca is highly expected, so New York it is in less than three weeks!

Yusif Eyvazov as Macduff. Photo: © Bill Cooper

The contender of the night, Macduff, was performed by Yusif Eyvazov, and besides internet streaming of LaScala opening night with Andrea Chenier, it was my first experience of hearing him in live performance. It seems that Eyvazov is trying to break out from the perception of being just Mr. Netrebko, while there are specific issues with his voice and style of delivery. He has undoubtedly well schooled and trained instrument and has the ability to go for the money notes without much of exertion. While he is singing in mezzo voce, the timbre is even likeable, but when he adds effort for enforced projection, his voice gets suffocated guttural sound. Certainly, he delivered all the right notes, and his stage presence, posture and acting ability is very good – his Macduff came across as wounded yet determined character. His delivery of  Ah, la paterna mano was filled with pain and torment and clearly demonstrated his ability to project complex emotional message into the audience. Probably it depends on individual taste in tenorial sound, but unfortunately, he is not getting a place on my favoured tenors’ list.  I hope he will get the right coach to help mitigate the issue and we will see him on par with the most sought-after tenors nowadays.

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Željko Lučić (Macbeth) and Anna Netrebko (Lady Macbeth) Photo: © ROH/ Bill Cooper

There has been quite a lot of criticism addressing bland and indifferent singing of Željko Lučić as Macbeth as well as some other recent roles. Here I would like to oppose the critics, as even if he is not the most natural stage animal, and his portrayal of various villains might create such perception, I really adored his portrayal of the main protagonist last night – it was Macbeth of multitude of faces – from insecure and confused to arrogant and bloodthirsty, ruthless criminal, who at the same time is deeply wounded man. Last year I have had a chance to see him in a multitude of roles – from Scarpia to Iago to Rigoletto. Always vocally impeccable, but dramatically subtle and introspective. He is a master of bel canto, his legato is impeccable and voice has virile burnished tone. For my taste, he is one of the best interpreters of those anti-heroes, and I believe his portrayal and love the voice.

Ildebrando d’Archangelo as Banco delivered a wholesome performance of his key aria Come dal ciel precipita, he has very pleasant timbre and is in good vocal shape, but unfortunately, he got covered by the orchestra. There was also remarkble performance from Francesca Chiejina as Lady-in waiting and Simon Shibambu as Doctor.

Special mention of the night goes to the chorus of the Royal Opera house, especially -main collective protagonist – red scarves around their heads, unibrow in Frida Kalo style, broomsticks and synchronous movement – ladies of ROH chorus, who delivered the role of fluid operators of the fate and prophecies with style. High praise for dynamic, electrified but nuanced reading of the score by Antonio Pappano and ROH orchestra responding to his lead with well balanced, rich sound. The night to remember and look forward to more extraordinary performances!

Credits

Music Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto Francesco Maria Piave
Director Phyllida Lloyd
Designer Anthony Ward
Lighting designer Paule Constable
Choreography Michael Keegan-Dolan
Performers

Conductor Antonio Pappano

Macbeth Željko Lučić

Lady Macbeth Anna Netrebko
Macduff Yusif Eyvazov
Lady-in-waiting Francesca Chiejina
Malcolm Konu Kim
Royal Opera Chorus
Concert Master Sergey Levitin
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

3 thoughts on ““Macbeth” in London: Netrebko, Lučić and Pappano mesmerize the audience

  1. I’m also a big fan of Željko Lučić. He was an ensemble member here in Frankfurt for ten years, so I have heard him many times in all the big Verdi roles. And he has come twice as a guest speaker to my opera appreciation courses, once in English and once in German.

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