Left – Elizabeth Whitehouse. Cover – Elizabeth Whitehouse and Peter Coleman-Wright. Photos – Branco Gaica
Opera Australia’s Macbeth (Giuseppe Verdi) remained intensely cold from beginning to end. The chilly appearance, with tree branches unfolding out of the sides and above the stage, set the mood but this backdrop remained unchanged. Although the opera is all about the singing, Opera Australia does pride itself on its magnificent sets (and set changes) but I feel as though this one didn’t deliver as much. It remained static, which is a shame as the singing was (and is always) of a high standard. Even the movement of props across the stage seemed a bit fruitless; as the royal chairs moved from centre stage, to stage right, then off stage, with no attention paid to them by Macbeth or any other character.
The more positive attributes of Macbeth were the key players. Macbeth (Peter Coleman-Wright) exudes passion, sadness and madness through his grand soliloquies. Lady Macbeth (Elizabeth Whitehouse) is radiant, though through her downward spiral into madness, becomes frenzied. This character progression was reflected quite well in the costuming, moving from jewelled gowns and royal garb, to torn, dirty, discoloured rags. I feel that the same cannot be said for the witches, who appeared like an odd miss-match of gypsies.
The witches, who are presented as an entire chorus of women, provide the supernatural layer to Macbeth. Although all appear quite feminine and even gypsy-like, Banquo’s (played by Daniel Sumegi) line – ‘You should be women, And yet your beards forbid me to interpret That you are so’ suggests sexual ambiguity which implies monstrousness, one of the key themes of Macbeth. Yet, visually, this was not ascertained by any means. Additionally, the witches’ chorus consisted of 30-odd women, even though there were three that physically stood out from the rest. I waited for some kind of special performance by these three but there was none – unfortunately, another futile endeavour.
The voices of the chorus, Macbeth and his Lady are strong, yet they are outshone by Macduff, played by Rosario La Spina. The power in his voice reflects the power of his character, aided by the support of the community (also a moving, strong chorus) which ultimately leads Macduff to defeat Macbeth in single combat. Macduff was a stand-out, confirmed by the audience’s final applause.
As I mention the set design again, I am consistently dazzled by Opera Australia’s commitment to this very important area of theatre-making. Although the sets did not change up significantly in Macbeth, you could see how much work went into it. And so, Set Designer Claude Goyette should be commended here, as well as Costume Designer, François St-Aubin and Lighting Designers Étienne Boucher and Nigel Levings. The most memorable visual aesthetic was the snow that fell on the chorus throughout an entire performance as they solemnly sung about their community in peril at the hands of the tyrant, Macbeth.
The timeless tale of an ambitious yet corrupt King is brought to life on stage by the intersection of historic talent; William Shakespeare and Giuseppe Verdi. The story is as powerful as the music, but, at times, the visual execution was a little off. Regardless, you really see an Opera for the beauty in a professionally trained, committed voice and that is definitely what you get in this production.
Opera Australia presents
by Giuseppe Verdi
Venue: Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Dates: September 10, 15, 20, 23, 27, 30 and October 5, 8 (matinee) 2011
Bookings: Opera Australia (02) 9318 8200 | www.opera-australia.org.au