NBR New Zealand Opera
Aotea Centre, Auckland | September 18-25
St James Theatre, Wellington | October 9-16
New Zealand Opera’s current production of Verdi’s Macbeth (1847, rev. 1865)—a revival of director Tim Albury’s 2008 staging for Opera North—makes a strong case for one of Verdi’s lesser-known operas. Like NZ Opera’s season of The Marriage of Figaro, performed earlier this year, it is the quality of singing and acting that distinguishes this production.
Michele Kalmandi plays the titular character, and he is a convincingly troubled Macbeth, communicating more with his powerful voice than his relatively muted acting. As Lady Macbeth, Antonia Cifrone was a chilling revelation, her impact as much visual as aural, from a distance scarily reminiscent of Michelle Boag. Cifrone displayed vocal power from the outset but achieved poignancy too in the sleepwalked una macchia è qui tuttora.
Of the smaller roles, Roman Shulackoff (who played Lensky in last year’s Onegin) was outstanding as Macduff; his elegant Ah, la paterna mano in Act 4 (sadly his only aria in the opera) was the strongest vocal performance of the evening. The trio of witches, who have key musical and dramatic roles throughout the opera, were played compellingly by Glenn Meade, Emma Sloman, and Alexandra Ioan.
The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, who appeared in the Auckland performances (and to be replaced by the Vector Wellington Orchestra in the second half of the season), provided a real sense of urgency under the baton of Guido Ajmone-Marsan, with notable performances from the brass. The Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus were in superb voice, noticeable in particular in the a cappella chorus that opens the final Act.
Unfortunately, the strength of the musical performances was somewhat undermined by the set and at times perplexing direction. The curved backdrop was suitably bleak, and cleverly provided roosts from which the witches observed the action, but was also home to an automatic door (through which characters appear and depart) that would have looked more at home in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The choreographed shifting of the six trees that lined the stage was awkward and distracting. Some of the dramatic elements, such as the two surreal midwifery scenes, were playful and worked well, but others, such as the clumsy screen that was rolled into position to conceal two death scenes, did not.
These distractions aside, this is an undeniably bold production of a difficult work, particularly worth seeing for the very strong musical performances from all involved.