Monday, 11 March 2019

Not yet down and dirty: English Touring Opera rising to the challenge of Verdi's Macbeth

Verdi: Macbeth - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Verdi: Macbeth - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Verdi Macbeth; Grant Doyle, Madeleine Pierard, Amar Muchhala, Andrew Slater, dir: James Dacre, cond: Jerry Cornelius; English Touring Opera at the Hackney Empire
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 9 March 2019
Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)

A claustrophobic and atmospheric production with performances, as yet, a little to repressed

Verdi: Macbeth - Grant Doyle, Madeleine Pierard - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Verdi: Macbeth - Grant Doyle, Madeleine Pierard
English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Verdi’s psychologically intense portrait of a descent into the womb of hell is a story worthy of Terence Fisher. Devilishly malign, its ferociously expansive music, intoxicating rhythms and ghostly silences make it a real crowd puller.

Goodness knows how a touring company can marshal the forces for Verdi but on Saturday 9 March 2019 English Touring Opera took on the challenge in front of a packed house at the Hackney Empire, with some success. Grant Doyle was the eponymous anti-hero and Madeleine Pierard the dastardly Lady M. Amar Muchhala, Andrew Slater and David Lynn sang Macduff, Banquo and Malcolm. Ed Hawkins was a marvelously orotund Doctor and Tanya Hurst the nurse. It was conducted by Gerry Cornelius.

Notwithstanding the excellent chorus and Amar Muchhala’s nice turn as the old soak Macduff, in truth, this is a three-character opera; Mr and Mrs M and the witches. Here in James Dacre's production the witches very clearly rule the drama, appearing unnervingly like the denizens of a supernatural Nonnatus House directing proceedings with quiet authority and clearing up other people’s mess. I unexpectedly liked the idea neatly sidestepping any misgivings about the alleged style of the witches’ music.

If Macbeth is all about the drama, then it was set up perfectly in the claustrophobic and atmospherically lit environs of a concrete bunker bristling with weaponry.
What we needed though was more than a chiaroscuro. For all the passion and musicality that Grant Doyle and Madeleine Pierard brought to their roles it was all too neat and tidy. Lacking in impassioned detail, the underbelly of their characters and the canker in their hearts remained a mystery. I so wanted them to “serve the poet before the composer”, to make a nasty sound or even sing sul fiato. This should be dirty, a riveting and dysfunctional psychological cesspit.

Verdi: Macbeth - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Verdi: Macbeth - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
This tragedy, “one of the greatest creations of the human spirit” is all a bit repressed.

Verdi: Macbeth - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Verdi: Macbeth - English Touring Opera
(Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Unfortunately, it played out too much like a dust up at the local golf club. This is early doors though. The ingredients are there, if they learn to loosen their emotional stays, in the playing, then this could develop into the electric drama that they hoped it would be.
Reviewed by Anthony Evans

Macbeth
Hackney Empire
Saturday 9 March 2019
English Touring Opera
Macbeth : Grant Doyle
Lady Macbeth : Madeleine Pierard
Banquo : Andrew Slater
Macduff : Amar Muchhala
Malcolm : David Lynn
Lady-in-waiting : Tanya Hurst
Doctor : Ed Hawkins
Director : James Dacre
Conductor : Gerry Cornelius

20 further performance on tour until 31 May 2019, see English Touring Opera website for details

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Letting the music speak for itself: Mozart's Idomeneo from English Touring Opera (★★★★½) - opera review
  • Cadogan Hall debut: the Gesualdo Six in a programme of Renaissance and Contemporary (★★★★) - concert review
  • The Children's Hour: intimate and delightfully casual, Gareth Brynmor John and William Vann at Pizza Express Live - concert review
  • Haydn's The Seasons from Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra  (★★★★★) - concert review
  • Virtuosity and intimacy: Flauguissimo duo's A Salon Opera  (★★★½) - CD review
  • Political piano and terrific technique: Adam Swayne's (speak to me): new music, new politics (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Neapolitan revival: Rossini's Elizabeth in a rare staging from English Touring Opera  - opera review
  • Glitter and sparkle: The Merry Widow at English National Opera (★★★★) - opera review
  • Creating a contemporary choral tradition in Ireland: Desmond Earley and The Choral Scholars of University College Dublin  - interview
  • Dame Emma Kirkby's 70th birthday concert at the Wigmore Hall (★★★★★) - concert review
  • A very modern Robin Hood: Dani Howard's new opera at The Opera Story (★★★★) - opera review 
  • Sparkling delight: Coloratura Offenbach from Jodie Devos (★★★★)  - CD review
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