English Touring Opera
Perth Concert Hall
16 May 2019
A spectacular opener for the Perth Festival of Arts, English Touring Opera’s colourful and action-filled opera places Verdi’s Shakespearean masterpiece in a civil war-torn Scotland that feels like a former Soviet-block Balkan state, complete with camouflage-attired mercenary militia, a brutalist bare-concrete Macbeth’s castle lit with industrial lighting and, of course, a deliciously tyrannical Leader and First Lady.
At the opening an almost comically grotesque chorus of witches make their appearance, in a cross between druids’ robes and Crimean nurses uniforms, tending to the injured of the bloody battlefield, from which the good king Duncan has emerged victorious. Of course, the crown will not sit for long on Duncan’s head, as the witches’ prophecies set in motion a cataclysm of events that will see Macbeth, emboldened by a power-hungry wife, first commit regicide, then seek to secure his power by assassinating his rival, the noble Banquo, sung by bass Amar Muchhala, and his sons, whom the witches’ chorus has augured will be king after Macbeth. It’s more bloody than an episode of Game of Thrones.
Grant Doyle sings a powerful Macbeth, faltering at first at the prospect of killing king Duncan, but stiffened in his resolve by the power-lusting Lady Macbeth, we watch as he slides headlong past guilt and right into despotism. Tanya Hurst as Lady Macbeth sings some of the finest arias of any of Verdi’s operas with sublime poise and clarity. She is a perfect choice for a Lady Macbeth, equally forceful and regal at first, and then steadily descending into guilty despair. “There’s a stain, and here’s another” she sings, frantically scrubbing at her hands in the great sleepwalking scene. “So much blood inside his veins. Who would have thought the old man had so much blood inside his veins?” There’s a solipsistic, faltering quality to Hurst’s Lady here that almost catches the observer pitying her, she who at the banquet hall merrily performed the drinking song “Come charge your glasses,” as if completely innocent, even ignorant, of the regicide she partook in only moments before.
English Touring Opera’s production preserves the musical colour and dramatic flow of one of Verdi’s greatest operas. Considering it was written in 1847, it is as action-packed and fast-paced as much modern drama. The orchestra, led by Gerry Cornelius, give an exuberant performance, especially rousing in the choruses of the witches and in the magnificent Finale, yet light and joyful in the drinking song, poignant and full of foreboding in Banquo’s aria “Black is the night.”
A magnificently entertaining Macbeth, full of colour, drama and beauty, and a very popular addition to what is becoming a rather worthy little annual festival in the Fair City.
Words: Mark Mackenzie
Images: Richard Hubert Smith