Wednesday 25 July 2007

Review of Macbeth (Glyndebourne at the Proms)

To the proms last night for the Glyndebourne Prom, their performance of Verdi's Macbeth. First of all, though we had to negotiate the perils of getting into and around the Albert Hall. There were huge queues at the doors, as attendants were searching bags. Luckily some of the attendants had sense and were redirecting people to doors where there were no queues.

Once in, we had to encircle the dreaded corridor; why is it that this space seems to encourage people to linger in awkward groups thus making the circumnavigation rather cumbersome. The queue for the ladies toilet was so long that it was blocking the way into the gents. Oh I do love this place! Still, at least they had not run out of programmes as they did at the late night Striggio Prom last week.

Geoffrey Dolton had reduced Richard Jones's production to manageable proportions, given the tiny stage area available. The chorus were dressed vaguely in tartan and remained generally stationary. When being witches, 3 actressess/dancers came onto the stage dress in the costumes familiar from the production photos. They proceeded to gyrate during the choruses and frankly, I wished they hadn't. Given the vividness of the chorus utterance and the intensity of their Italian diction, I could quite happily have done without the visuals. For the men of the chorus, sitting in serried ranks in kilts on a level above the audience must have given them a cause for concern when sitting, lest they flash more than just their knees.

This was also true in the ballet when the 3 actresses were joined by 3 others garbed as a skeleton, a mummy etc. Looking at the production photos again, I could imagine that on the Glyndebourne stage with the whole ensemble, this might have been effective. But with just 6 people gyrating on the Albert Hall acting area the results were risible. I just closed my eyes and listened to Verdi's ballet music. It was the first time I'd heard it in situe. I'd like to hear it again in a more propitious circumstance.

This reduction of the production to small details meant that what might have been effective and powerful at Glyndebourne, became risible in the Albert Hall. The reliance of both Macbeths on axes - in moments of stress each reached for an axe (or two) - looked a little foolish. Similarly the Sleepwalking Scene was reduced to a pile of rubber gloves, an orange sack and a bucket. Whether or not you liked the original production, such reduction is hardly helpful.

Still, what we were left with was the sheer intensity of the individual performances. Whether the cut-down production worked or not, the soloists delivered stunning performances. Stanislav Shvets made a fine, meliflous Banquo; very much a cut above the barking, older bass that we can sometimes expect in this role. He seemed to have developed a real dialogue with Macbeth in the opening scenes. His appearance as a ghostly card-board box was one of the other less helpful bits of production business.

As the Lady, Sylvie Valayre had all the notes that the role required, including the ability to do the coloratura. Hers is not the most lovely voice and she seemed to have a tendency to push it at times, but I'm not sure how much of this was to do with trying to cope with the Royal Albert Hall. If I have time this week, I plan to listen to the opera on the BBC web site and will report back again.

Her coloratura was generally done in a lighter, more lyric voice which lent it subtletly and shading. Valayre is definitely not a Lady in the Ghena Dimitrova/Rita Hunter mould where one huge voice is called upon to negotiate itself round Verdi's fiddly bits. But those that heard Hunter in the role probably know that she did the negotiating with brilliant skill.

Valayre simply did not, in the end, endear her voice to me no matter how well she played the role. Which was a shame as she made a very fine Lady. Her presence was a bit more subtle than the usual blood and thunder we can get, for this we must credit both Valayre herself and Richard Jones.

She developed a fine rapport with her husband. And it was Andrzej Dobber as Macbeth which made the whole thing worthwhile. He gave a stunning account of the role, beautfully sung and fine stage-crafted, totally believable and lovely to listen to. He even managed to not look embarrassed at having to wear a kilt. I was glad that
Jones had opted for the 1845 ending. Not only do I prefer this, as it omits Verdi's rather trivial chorus of praise from the 1865 revision. But it also gave us the opportunity to hear Dobber singing Macbeth's final 1845 aria. I long to hear Dobber again, but next time in a decent size theatre please.

Peter Auty made a fine Macduff, giving us a fine Italianate account of the single tenor Aria in the piece.

I think the Albert Hall may have given Vladimir Jurowski one or two problems, at least the orchestral ensemble seemed to take a little time to settle. But when it did, it was fabulous. Dobber apart, the main reason for going to this performance was to hear the wonderfully subtle performance by Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. This was worlds away from the rumty-tum image of early Verdi; it was beautifully paced and shaped.

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