On Wednesday September 9th, as part of ‘Deloitte Ignite,’ the annual festival which begins the Royal Opera Season, a new chamber opera based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth will be presented in the Linbury Theatre, after its premiere at Glyndebourne. It comes with a very strong pedigree: the composer, Luke Styles, was Glyndebourne’s Young Composer in Residence 2011-2014, and he made a big impression there with Vanity, based on the Sonnets. At the time, we praised that work as one which enabled us to see the poems in a new light, “…in music of the deepest respect and love, never once trivializing or attempting to ‘modernise’ the complex emotions which they contain.”
Macbeth might seem to be a very different proposition, with its violence, brutal anti-hero and political intrigue, but it has the same fascination for lovers of complex poetry and characterization as the Sonnets. Styles has spoken of the deep affinity he feels for Shakespeare’s language, and just as Vanity respected the originals, in this new Macbeth the composer and librettist / director Ted Huffman have kept not only to the dramatist’s words but also to some of the traditions of his time. The work is set for male voices only, which reflects the custom of the time when the plays were written.
The focus in the new work is very much on the political rather than the supernatural – a welcome one, in our view – and it sets the events of the play in terms of modern-day conflicts. Macbeth is one of the few Shakespeare plays which really can be performed within “the two hours’ traffic of our stage,” so it lends itself well to the intensity of a 75-minute one-act opera. Jeremy Bines, Glyndebourne’s Chorus Master, conducts members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the singers are drawn from the 2015 Festival Chorus.