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Macbeth at the Hackney Empire — a tightly focused updating of Verdi’s opera

Macbeth at the Hackney Empire — a tightly focused updating of Verdi’s opera

Macbeth at the Hackney Empire — a tightly focused updating of Verdi’s opera
March 12
00:28 2019

In this production of Macbeth the witches are nurses, clad in green as though administering anaesthetics. They tend to the wounded, hover like eerie angels over the dying, and generally make sure that this tightly focused, updated version of Verdi’s opera hits the spot with surgical accuracy.

It is brave of a touring company to tackle one of the large-scale 19th-century operas. English Touring Opera has put its best foot forward and is taking some creditable Verdi out on the road this spring together with its two other operas, Rossini’s Elizabeth I and Mozart’s Idomeneo.

The Macbeth is sung in English, using the translation by Andrew Porter, former FT music critic. Its mix of everyday, modern English and key quotes from Shakespeare helps to give extra immediacy to a production set very much in the here and now. The director, James Dacre, places the opera in a locale with enough mist to be Scotland, but otherwise grey, modern, could-be-anywhere. It is a land riven by civil war and Macbeth is a member of a totalitarian army, descended into civil strife. Apart from dropping the front curtain at some strange times, including while Macbeth lies unconscious after his visions of future kings, it keeps up a suitably oppressive atmosphere.

Eerie angels: the witches in English Touring Opera’s ‘Macbeth’ © Richard Hubert Smith

Towards the end, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth take turns sleeping on an elegant couch, as the opera starts to delve into the contrasting secrets of the male and female psyches. Grant Doyle’s Macbeth does not seem wracked by much inner angst, but he sings the role with such unforced strength and, in his closing aria, stylish musicianship that audiences round the country should count themselves lucky to have him. Madeleine Pierard is sometimes taken to her limit as Lady Macbeth, but the glittering brio she brings to the music, not to mention a real trill, lights up the role.

There is decent support from Andrew Slater’s Banquo and, especially, David Lynn’s Malcolm. The conductor, Gerry Cornelius, does not let the headlong drama flag. Above all, it was good to see ETO’s spring tour kick off with a near-capacity crowd at Hackney Empire. Years of work building up audiences away from the major operatic centres is clearly paying off.


Touring to May 31,

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