To perform the Scottish Play on Friday 13th seemed a risky enterprise, but good fortune smiled on this production of Verdi’s early opera version of Shakespeare’s great tragedy.
Staged in the Queensland Performing Arts Centre’s concert hall, next door to Opera Queensland’s usual Lyric Theatre home (where Annie was entertaining the masses), it was billed as a concert performance. This raised visions of soloists taking it in turns to stand stolidly at rostrums reading their scores, after the manner of a religious oratorio.
And indeed it is a concert setting, with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra on full display, with chorus above and behind.
But it is not in an opera company’s DNA to forego a bit of drama, so it is a pleasant surprise to see the principals interacting, moving about on the stage and even flourishing daggers. They all sing from memory as do the chorus. Surtitles are an unexpected bonus.
Moreover, lighting designer Andrew Meadows provides some nice effects, with flashes of lightning as well as various levels of gloom plus effective spotlighting, including that of a spectral Banquo appearing in the balcony to torment a crazed Macbeth.
And the upside of a concert performance is the scale of the musical output. To have a full symphony orchestra on stage (rather than a subset secreted in the pit) makes for a full and glorious sound, well directed in this production by Nicholas Braithwaite. Verdi’s music is loudly dramatic, and the brass and percussion work is particularly memorable. Especially pleasing is Thomas Allely’s work on the cimbasso (of the trombone family).
Not only that, but a chorus of more than 50 talented signers, well prepared by Narelle French, add robustly to the musical feast.
Of the principals, baritone Michael Lewis is a convincing Macbeth, perhaps strained in the first act but vocally warming into a powerful warrior overtaken by madness. As the magnificently costumed Lady Macbeth, soprano Elizabeth Whitehouse sings her highly dramatic role with confidence and strength.
Bass Andrew Collis is compelling as the betrayed Banquo, his voice rich and textured. Bulgarian tenor Kaludi Kaludow projects a beautifully sonorous tone as the heroic Macduff. He and fellow tenor Virgilio Marino as Malcolm sing a touching duet. Mezzo Emily Burke (also well-attired) gives great support as lady-in-waiting, as does Guy Booth as the doctor.
The opera as a whole is an interesting experience for those more familiar with Verdi’s greatest works, such as La traviata and Il trovatore. Musically it is not as satisfying as later operas, but the Verdian techniques and motifs are all apparent.
The opera is particularly good in emphasising, as does Shakespeare, the manifest evil which flows from the central characters’ ambition. The Opera Queensland team do well in bringing out this theme, with powerful ensemble work at key dramatic moments.
This strong and lusty performance is a great contribution to Brisbane musical life.