“I hope they keep their legs crossed,” commented the lady behind me as Glyndebourne’s tartan army of a chorus filled the rows behind the orchestra for Tuesday’s semi-staged performance of Verdi’s Macbeth. I hoped they didn’t, but there you go.
Richard Jones‘ production for the festival had divided opinion (as his productions are won’t to do).
However, this was a semi-staging by Geoffrey Dolton, so I can’t comment on what the picnic-munching audience on the Sussex Downs actually saw, which is a shame as having seen the bare bones at the RAH I hankered after the full version. Jones is the most subversive and original opera director at work today and his productions are always an event, but even with only a glimpse of what he had in mind, this semi-staging packed a massive theatrical punch, and held a capacity audience spellbound throughout.
Of course we had the benefit of hearing an orchestra, cast and chorus that had already performed the work at Glyndebourne since the end of May, so it’s not surprising that this performance has a white hot intensity from first bar to last.
Vladimir Jurowski conducted one of the most thrilling Verdi performances I’ve heard in years. Macbeth, being early Verdi, can easily descend into rum-tum-tum routine, and can sometimes sound farcical, but here it came across as a masterpiece. Even the witches’ chorus had a sense of menace which is rarely the case in most performances. Needless to say the London Philharmonic played as though their lives depended on it, whilst the chorus one of the best operatic ensembles in the land thrilled with their precision and gloriously homogenous tone.
Even if the cast had been average, this would still have been a night to remember, but Glyndebourne had assembled a nine-carat one within which Sylvie Valayre‘s Lady Macbeth took pride of place. It’s an almost impossible role to cast these days not only must the soprano have a thrilling top, but a cavernous lower register as well. Many celebrity’ sopranos have come a cropper in this role, but Valayre positively revelled in all the pitfalls that Verdi’s writing threw at her. She was nothing short of sensational, and I couldn’t help wondering why she is so underused in this country. She would be a glorious Turandot come on Royal Opera!
As Macbeth, Polish baritone Andrzej Dobber managed to hold his own next to such a harridan of a wife, but his Italian was far from idiomatic nevertheless he produced much glorious singing throughout the evening, and Verdi baritones don’t grow on trees these days, so he’s a useful addition to what has become a dwindling roster of singers. All the supporting roles were cast from strength as you’d expect from this company. Murder has never been in more convincing hands.