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Wednesday, 19 June, 2002, 10:17 GMT 11:17 UK
Verdi's Macbeth
Verdi's Macbeth

Macbeth at the Royal Opera House, a revival of one of Verdi's trilogy of Shakespearean operas.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review)

We should be thinking all the time "Why are they doing Verdi", but it's virtually impossible not to think "How well are they doing Shakespeare" as well.

Most of us will know the plot from the play, but this is one from the absolute premier league of operas.

I do think that it succeeds separately, and I felt that, as the production wore on, there was sufficient in it, not just the music and the singing, which I must praise, but in the conception and the staging, to identify this as a wholly separate work of art.

A work of art which I felt dealt in greater detail with gender questions than previous stagings of the play that I have seen.

Both the exploration of the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and also the role of the witches, was much more compelling.

The chorus of the witches is larger. They play a more integral part in the structure. We see a juxtaposition between the world of men and the women.

It's Lady Macbeth who drives the course of the plot in this production, and the witches also interfere at various stages.

We see therefore, to my view, the illusion that men often have, that they are in the driving seat, when it's the women around them who are shaping events.

Germaine Greer, so many people have seen this acted that it puts real pressure on the singers, because they are going to have to act and give an interpretation as well. How well do they do it?

I think they do it very well, but I think it's important to remember - well, what actually happens here, that's fascinating to me, is that the production knows more about Shakespeare than the opera knows about Shakespeare.

Verdi got his Shakespeare through verse translations in Italian and wanted it telescoped to make the opera.

He insisted it was very brief, so it ended up with a melodramatic sequence of events in which Lady Macbeth has a part which is at least as large as Macbeth, which isn't the case with Shakespeare.

It becomes a melodrama, worked out in terms of the interaction of the two characters. The other characters are burned away as well, and the whole huge baroque sweep of the opera is gone.

What's interesting to me is that they brought it back in by degrees. But, to me, the most astonishing thing about this production will be its sound quality, which seems like a mad thing to say. But that stage, which was designed for the Bastille, it's a studio.

It's lined with faceted walls which are covered with metal mesh, and I kept thinking, "I have never heard a ring on a baritone like Anthony Michaels Moor's voice" in such an auditorium.

What came out of the metal box was an already mixed and dispersed sound. It was fabulous, and so they could have huge subtlety and great power in the way they sang.

Musically, this was one of the best operas we will ever see. When it comes down to the production, I am not so sure.

It's very spectacular looking. Quite often, in productions of Macbeth on the stage, Scotland is a daub and mottled place. Here it's all gold and very spectacular.

Yes. I wasn't quite sure what the square box set was meant to represent. It was nice singing.

I found that I just couldn't connect with it on any kind of getting involved with the characters or any kind of emotional involvement.

It was very much I felt a slight intellectual exercise. Here is a nice bit of stage business. Here is an interesting idea, and you sort of connect with it on an intellectual level rather than an emotional level.

So the music didn't grab you?

It did. But you sit there thinking the singing is extraordinary, especially Lady Macbeth, but it felt like watching a trapeze act at the circus.

But everything else is secondary. It should be about the singing.

It should. I was offended by some things. They made me really cranky.

This opera house has a tonne of money, and it's got even more money from something called the Sainsbury Royal Opera House Trust, and it's got Lottery funds and the rest of us not us, but everybody else - paying for their ticket.

Then they throw the money away doing things that are really dumb. I couldn't believe that we had to look at an endless succession of gilt horsemen. God knows how much they had cost.

They represent royal extravagance. The thing about the Royal Opera House is that they have had in the past certain sets which have been paired down and minimalist and have treated opera as psychodrama.

But it is psychodrama.

It is and successfully realised as such. I do disagree with Charlie.

I think the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth does get you here, but I think Germaine is wrong to say that it shouldn't have spectacle and the Royal Opera House shouldn't have spectacle. It's an integral part of the dramatic experience.

That's not what I said. To me, it's absurd that the stage opens up and there are all these gilt horsemen.

We have to look at the real horses, when the spectacle could have been done with holograms, and you would have realised then that they weren't there.

Apart from that you have the singers singing out into the auditorium about a vision behind him which is actually in his head. It was nonsense. Expensive nonsense.

See also:

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