Directed and choreographed by Maxine Braham, this production of Verdi’s Macbeth opened with one of the fantastical spirits poking her head through the curtains and giving the audience a “once-over”, which set the approach to this dark tale.
The designs by Madeleine Boyd, lit by Matt Haskins, sets the Scottish Play in the world of books, the stage framed by a library with an upper walkway, wall cabinet housing the infamous dagger, the bloody crown, and a spiral staircase to enter and depart Macbeth’s world.
The witches, each sung and wonderfully acted as a small group of singers, are joined by other women in a motley collection of costumes (fishnets, pirate hats, burlesque, leather, dinner suits) as the coven lets rip. The idea would seem to be an exploration and celebration of female sensuality and sexuality, including even can-can dancers. This is all perfectly valid for the story of the husband and wife of vaulting ambition but who are basically enders of life while others are to be the creators of the future royal lineage.
This idea is carried through in some clever scenes, such as the apparitions for Macbeth being delivered from the womb of a witch, something like Lady Gaga’s Born this Way music video, and the ingredients for the cauldron including artefacts of women’s sexualisation and oppression (including bound feet). These witches are not only the foretellers of the events that will unfold but are the catalysts and instigators, right to the very end when they acknowledge a confused Macduff, having slain Macbeth.
For a story that is about future generations the production is blessed with some impressive child performers, including from a local school, who range from the apparitions of Banquo’s descendants, Banquo’s son who survives his father’s murder and the children of the refugee Scots fleeing to England.
Jonathan Lemalu and Kai Patel
The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is conducted with a fiery intensity by Francesco Cilluffo, keeping a firm balance on the music that romps along, at times sweeping and fierce, then gentle and controlled, and occasionally almost film music-like driving the pace of the action; all in harmony with the impressive cast of Gezim Myshketa as Macbeth, Judith Howarth as Lady Macbeth, Jonathan Lemalu as Banquo and Samuel Sakker as Macduff.
There are always times with the opera you feel it is Lady Macbeth who deserves the title role (and curtain call honour) and with Judith Howarth the audience was given a masterclass of singing that could chill the blood through both the passion and ferocity to the softness and measure of her descent into madness. Yet the Macbeth from Gezim Myshketa had us on the edge of our seats, particularly when the director had the similarly troubled killer take to the very front of the stage, eloquently revealing his inner anguish, before more bursts of violence and his own psychological collapse. This revolting couple have no redeeming features and there was no attempt to give them any.
This is an opera that demands big voices and here this is served up in good measure. In addition to the mighty pairing of the Macbeths, the Banquo from Jonathan Lemalu has the elegance and power also complemented by a gentle richness that engenders the necessary sympathy for the character.
Especially when singing against the backdrop of the suffering of the people of Scotland, Samuel Sakker sang a virile and rousing Macduff, whose drive for (national) justice is paired with his pitiful lament on not protecting his family.
This is a demanding opera to stage well and not skimp on the smaller yet essential roles, including the commentators on the tragedy particularly Katie Lowe’s lady in waiting and Timothy Dawkins’ doctor. The son of slain Duncan (and what a gruesome corpse we had from Xavi Monreal) is taken well by Andres Presno. The chorus was in great voice and entered the physicality of this heady and swirling production, filled with gore, severed heads in bags and wince-making stabbings.
Gezim Myshketa and the Grange Festival Chorus
Images: Simon Annand
Until July 5