Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth in "Macbeth"
(photo: Metropolitan Opera)
The Metropolitan Opera’s current HD broadcast season began with a showing of its modern dress 2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Macbeth”, hosted by mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili (known throughout the opera world, including the Met, for her “Carmen”). This production starred Baritone Željko Lucic in the title role, who also sang the role when the production was premiered, and soprano Anna Netrebko as his consort. It was a resounding success, easily one of the most impressive such broadcasts in their history, and quite possibly the best ever, largely in part to a daring choice of a role by one of the principals.
The story is no doubt familiar to opera buffs as well as Shakespeare fans. On the moors of Scotland, Macbeth (the powerfully-voiced Lucic) and Banquo (the always dependably impressive bass René Pape) encounter witches who address Macbeth as King of Scotland, and prophesy that Banquo will be the father of kings, then promptly disappear. Then, the current King Duncan (Raymond Renault) makes Macbeth Thane of Cawdor. Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth (the luminescent Anna Netrebko) determines Duncan must be killed. Macbeth envisions the infamous dagger before him and does the deed. Banquo and the noble Macduff (the beautifully nuanced tenor Joseph Calleja) discover the murder, while the Macbeths feign horror. Macbeth is crowned King of Scotland, while Duncan’s son Malcolm (Noah Baetge) flees. Macbeth, fearing the prophecy about Banquo, arranges to kill him and his son Fleance (Moritz Linn); Banquo is slain but Fleance escapes. As Lady Macbeth sings a drinking song, Macbeth drinks in the news about Banquo’s death, while haunted by a vision of an accusing Banquo at a banquet. Meanwhile, back at the cauldron, Macbeth again finds the bewitching group. They tell him to beware Macduff but assure him he can’t be harmed by any “man of woman born” and that he’ll be invincible until Birnham Wood marches on his castle. The Macbeths resolve to kill Macduff and his progeny. Macduff, his family having been killed, joins the returning Malcolm to invade Scotland. (Here the Metropolitan Opera Chorus was especially effective as they once again sang solidly as though with a single voice). Lady Macbeth sleepwalks as she is herself haunted. Macbeth hears that she has died, and that the woods (camouflaged troops) are advancing. Macduff tells Macbeth that he was not born naturally but had a Caesarean birth (thus conveniently fulfilling the witches’ last prophecy), then kills Macbeth, declaring Malcolm King of Scotland.
The uniqueness of this production began with the concept of making the witches not a trio but a veritable coven tree of them, nay a whole forest. And they were hardly the forest’s prime evil. That honor went unquestionably to the lady of the house. It was Netrebko’s courageous choice to take on the demanding vocal requirements of the role of Lady Macbeth, and she brought the house down. Her acting was on a par with her singing, creating a performance that will be hard to forget and tickets that will be even harder to get. Thus it was a real coup for Fathom Events to offer such an exquisite event at a theater near you. But Netrebko was not the only reason for attending; Lucic, Pape and Calleja were all memorable. The performance was expertly conducted by the Met’s Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi. Technical credits included the Production by Adrian Noble, the minimal but striking Set and Costume Design by Mark Thompson, and eerie Lighting Design by Jean Kalman.
As is so often the case with this opera, it was Lady Macbeth who held center stage firmly in her murderous grip. Those who weren’t fortunate enough to see this broadcast will have another opportunity to do so when it is encored on Wednesday Oct.15 at 6:30pm. Miss it and you’ll be sleepwalking for ages trying to forgive yourself.