Macbeth - Royal Opera House, 24 May 2011 (first night)
Liudmyla Monastyrska met all the hopes raised by the YouTube evidence and her recent Aida when she made her debut as Lady Macbeth at Covent Garden earlier tonight. It's all about the voice - and what a battle tank of a voice - dark, powerful, solid top-to-bottom, and huuuuuge. At full throttle, it blasts through the theatre, yet she manoeuvres it precisely around the fiddliest coloratura, and can wind it down to a whisper without losing its shape. I can think of no current soprano who could meet the demands of the role quite so perfectly, and the rest of the audience recognised it too - her every aria roundly applauded. In short, a miracle.
At her most effective when raving or spitting fury, she didn't give the subtlest of performances, it's fair to say. But then she didn't need to when paired with Simon Keenlyside, whose wracked portrayal could grace the Shakespearean stage with ease. The contrast between flawed human and monster is only etched more sharply.
The cast has been carefully picked, no doubt with a view to the live relay on 13 June. The reliable Raymond Aceto delivered another a knockout performance as Banquo, and Dimitri Pittas was a sturdy Macduff. Lukas Jakobski and Elisabeth Meister stood out as the Doctor and Lady-in-Waiting.
Macbeth is far from Verdi's most elegantly crafted or dramatically propulsive score, as was felt keenly in Pappano's slightly flabby reading. Uncharacteristically, the orchestra slipped from his grasp a couple of times. Perhaps he was dreaming about all the arcane repertoire he'll be able to tackle now he's discovered a soprano who can actually handle it (though, bizarrely, I don't see Monastyrska pencilled in for anything else in the near future).
Phyllida Lloyd's production is generally unobtrusive in that sort of prison-cum-steakhouse style that afflicts so many Verdi productions. A feminist angle is always laudable, though in so many ways this is not the most suitable opera to paste it on to. At least Lloyd's omnipotent, omnipresent and unibrowed witches know better than to stand in front of the singers, and mildly tittersome background details like a full size faux horse and a crucified extra are wheeled off before the laughter gets too loud.
production photos (above) - Clive Barda / Royal Opera House
curtain call photos (below) - intermezzo.typepad.com