Macbeth
At the banquet, Macbeth (Placido Domingo, right) is haunted by spectral visitors that are invisible to his guests. (Photo: Karen Almond / LA Opera)

Macbeth

LAOpera

By: Giuseppe Verdi
Directed by: Darko Tresnjak
Conducted by: James Conlon
Chorus Director: Grant Gershon
With: Placido Domingo, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Roberto Tagliavini, Joshua Guerrot, Josh Wheeker
LAOpera, Los Angeles, September 17 – October 16
http://www.laopera.org/

Here is my conundrum: (1) I am not crazy about performances that last three full hours; (2) I want to be emotionally pulled in; and (3) if dancers are going to be on stage for most of an opera the choreography should be meaningful and not repetitious. Well, the LAOpera production of Macbeth strikes out on all three fronts. AND YET …. don’t go away … AND YET, the time passed gloriously.

So what pulled me in. First and foremost, there is the score. Verdi’s Macbeth contains some of opera’s most beautiful music. As always, the LAOpera orchestra under James Conlon’s baton is fully equal to the task. Then there is the chorus. This production of Verdi’s Macbeth is a first for LAOpera. While it is not one of the most produced operas on the American stage, the choral music is often heard separately. One can clearly see why. It soars and lives, independently of the story transporting the listener to his own private realm. Musically, the LAOpera production is indeed satisfying.

For Shakespeare three witches were sufficient to lure and push Macbeth and Lady Macbeth into acting on their lust for power, finally tipping them into madness. Verdi wrote a chorus of witches for his Macbeth, divided the chorus into three sections, with each section singing as a single voice, using the first person singular. Musically, Director Darko Tresnjak sticks with the original; the chorus of witches is powerful and haunting. However, visually there are an additional ten witch dancers on stage for most of the performance. At best that would be overkill. This production is not at best. The witches are clothed in splotched body suits adorned with a heavy rat’s tail and an undersized shell. They are maniacally made-up, and coifed in mad women wigs. The choreography is simple and repetitive; they often swish their butts at the audience like wannabe pole dancers. No, I am not alone in finding this discordant. Giggles erupted periodically around me. The basically two-dimensional set, an abstraction of a castle, is adorned like a simple climbing wall and several of the witches periodically scramble up and strike less than bewitching and acrobatically uninteresting poses. Need I go on? Need I mention the ridiculous, Disneyesque, giant heads four of the witches wore to torment Macbeth even more? The effect was silly, rather than ominous as intended. The abundance and silliness of dancing witches undermines the production.

This review is based on the October 5, performance. Placido Domingo is appearing in all seven performances. Interspersed between his LAOpera duties are several other international appearances. One was in Seoul on October 2. You can do the math yourself. This would be taxing on man half his age. Kudos to Domingo for being able to complete the task, but tsk tsk for not recognizing that your audience deserves your full attention. You owe it to yourself also. Were he not a 20th and 21st century icon his October 5, performance would not have rated a standing ovation. Fortunately, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Roberto Tagliavini, Joshua Guerrero, and Josh Wheeker all delivered powerful performances.

Riddles need answers so ultimately I must deliver mine. Although opera is most satisfying when it engages us visually, and emotionally as well as musically, in the end opera is about the music. The LAOpera production of Macbeth is satisfying in spite of the silliness, because it enthralls us with the music. The three hours pass easily; they uplift and are worth every minute.

Karen Weinstein

Los Angeles,
Weinstein is a clinical psychologist who teaches in the medical school at UCLA. She also holds a master's degree in Urban Studies and has a strong interest in history and architecture, as well as the theater.