For summer opera in the country house setting, a good production is half the battle. Summer productions are not usually revived because the season is short and later years need other operas to keep the festival fresh. They should therefore be inexpensive, and the Grange Festival succeeded brilliantly with their Macbeth, showing what can be done with a good set, smoke and lighting (no mirrors needed).
The intimate atmosphere of the theatre, with its excellent sight-lines and raking of the stalls, helps create an intensity that enhances this relatively early Verdi opera. (It was composed in 1846, immediately after Attila and well before the famous middle period that produced Rigoletto.) Add to this the exciting conducting by a young Italian, Francesco Cilluffo, who is fast making a name for himself at opera houses around the world, and the ingredients for a superb performance were all there.
The movement and dancing on stage added to the whole effect without in any way distracting from the main story. So often in less expensive opera productions, and even some very well-funded ones, the appearance of dancers marks the moment when some audience members inwardly groan at incompetent and badly performed choreography. Not here. The choreographer Maxine Braham was also the director, and the dancing, often half-lit, merged seamlessly into the movement of characters in the background, adding a suitable air of menace.
It only needed the singers to inhabit their roles, and in Albanian baritone Gezim Myshketa as Macbeth, and British soprano Judith Howarth as his wife, known for her many principal roles at The Royal Opera, we had them. Mr Myshketa was a hugely powerful presence both vocally and on stage, and Ms Howarth brought out the darker qualities of her voice as Lady Macbeth. Other cast members provided excellent contrasts with the main couple, notably the Uruguayan tenor Andr é s Presno as Malcolm, along with the Australian tenor Samuel Sakker as an engaging Macduff, and the New Zealand -born bass Jonathan Lemalu as Banquo.
This was a compelling performance of Verdi ’ s opera, brilliantly staged with Madeleine Boyd ’ s designs and Matt Haskins ’ superbly atmospheric lighting. The conducting, the chorus, and the staging all came together as they should, but sometimes don ’ t . Hurry, though: for those Verdi devotees inspired to see this remarkable production, there are just two performances left (June 30 and July 5).
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