Review: Welsh National Opera’s Macbeth at Mayflower Theatre

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Welsh National Opera's performance of Macbeth is largely enjoyable, but also flawed with technical issues and an off-note performance from Macbeth himself.

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Coming to Southampton for the first time, the Welsh National Opera brought their very own rendering of Verdi’s Macbeth to Mayflower Theatre for one special performance. Being a strange mix between the two versions there are of it (the original from 1847, and the revised one of 1869), it tried to be a fierce and dark performance, and though at some points it definitely was, at other points it lacks intensity. It was an enjoyable, if a little uneven performance.

It is known that Verdi understood the witches as the third protagonist of Macbeth, composing for them choruses that are considered to be among the best of all his life. The director, Oliver Mears, seems to share that vision. All the scenes the witches appear in are intense and chilling, and the same happens with other choral passages, such as the banquet and the famous chorale ‘Patria Oppressa’. In general lines, the choruses were always perfect: powerful, gripping and well-choreographed.

However, it would be absurd to ignore that the set and costumes, designed by Annemarie Woods, played a great part in the choruses’ grandiosity. In fact, it is what strikes the more at the beginning; the nightmarish ambiance, an anachronism between ancient Scotland and the Nineties. Though flamboyant, the costumes surprisingly fit Verdi’s music. For example, Macbeth is striking in a bulletproof jacket and a crown, and the fourth act begins with a great mural of photos, reminiscent of the victims of a modern terrorist organisation such as the IRA. Also, the set seemed half the threshold of a palace, and half a council house. All this attaches the opera a new, modern and interesting interpretation.

Though the collective scenes were artistically flawless, some solos were, sadly, not very remarkable. There is nothing to object in Miriam Murphy’s Lady Macbeth, but in the case of Macbeth (a role not easy to defend), the Spanish baritone Luis Cansino sometimes had no personality and poise – although, his last aria managed to get some timid ‘bravos!’ from the audience. More intense and compelling were tenors Miklós Sebestyén and Bruce Sledge as Banquo and Macduff respectively.

Another issue was the annoying accumulation of minor staging and technical errors. None of them were very important, but piled on to become a real annoyance. Of course, this can be easily fixed, forgivable in that this was a whistlestop show for Macbeth at Mayflower. At some points of the play the subtitles just decided to vanish without reason, reappearing five minutes later, and this was all in the thin red line between minor mistake and big problem.

The Welsh National Opera have good intentions with their production of Macbeth, and despite being far from being impeccable, it is always decent and worthy. Let’s hope that in the future, they will be able to fix the slight troubles they have, for then they will have an excellent re-interpretation of, in Verdi’s words, ‘the work of mine I love the most’.

Macbeth was at Mayflower Theatre on 2nd November 2016. It continues to tour until November 23rd, and you can find out more here.

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Second year Philosophy student. Clearly not English.

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