Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Macbeth, Final Dress Rehearsal, Met, NYC, 20 Sep 2014

Text and Photos by: Yige Li


Opera in four acts
Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave and additions by Andrea Maffei, based on William Shakespeare's play of the same name

A Metropolitan Opera production

This review is for the final dress rehearsal on September 20, 2014, at the Metropolitan Opera House, in New York City, NY.

Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Macbeth: Željko Lucic
Banquo: René Pape
Lady Macbeth: Anna Netrebko
Lady-in-Waiting to Lady Macbeth: Claudia Waite
A Servant of Macbeth: Christopher Job
Malcolm: Noah Baetge
Macduff: Joseph Calleja
A Murderer: Richard Bernstein
A Herald: Seth Malkin
A Doctor: James Courtney

Production: Adrian Noble
Set & Costume Designer: Mark Thompson
Lighting Designer: Jean Kalman
Choreographer: Sue Lefton

If you want to find beautiful singing, go for the “Macbeth” in MET! If you want to find imaginative singing, go for the “Macbeth” in MET! If you want to find fearless singing, go for the “Macbeth” in MET!

Though, after three seasons, Anna Netrebko is not scheduled to perform in the opening night this time, the “Macbeth” she involves in attracts no less attention. Having successfully made several role debuts in heavier parts, for her, Lady Macbeth is the heaviest among them. With only two performances (in Munich earlier this year) in her pocket, what will she achieve in this MET revival (with a global live in HD transmission)? Everyone is interested to see.

I thought I could build it up in my mind of how Anya’s performance would be, since I have the following advantages: I am familiar with her previous works; I watched the video highlight posted by Bayerische Staatsoper on YouTube; I got a copy of pirate recording of Munich performance and listened to it many times; I talked to my friend attended the Munich performance and asked about many stage details; and finally, I watched the previous runs of this MET production both on DVD and live. However, I was wrong.

The production of Bayerische Staatsoper is a highly Regietheater one that it has very specific requirements for Lady Macbeth’s character, while the MET production is basically a classical production (with period updating). This means that singers could have more freedom on characterization. And, indeed, Anya took this advantage.

This Lady Macbeth was different from the first sight with a blonde wig. When seeing Anya’s picture of trying out the wig, I did not like the idea. I guess I am not alone as most of us prefer Anya in her own hair color. But seeing it in theater changed my mind. Visually speaking, in a dark stage that copes the atmosphere of the drama, a shiny blonde wig gives a proper focus. Then, character wise, this staging makes full use of the “blonde stereotype”.

And that’s where Anya has the characterization begins. After the familiar opening orchestra, we saw Lady Macbeth in her silky blonde hair (yes, hair--Anya’s wig, but Lady’s hair) and her silky light pajama. Using a voice with even a little bit joking color, she read the letter. Then came the cavatina and cabaletta. Name what you want: Various coloring? Solid high notes? Dramatic coloratura? You just could get everything. And she sang the “Or tutti sorgete, ministri infernali” with the repeat. In the beginning of the repeating part, she laid on the ground and sang with a sense of  holding back than bloomed out to full fire--more than the already-fiery first part--later on. The repeating was played not only as a vehicle displaying Anya’s super vocal ability, but, more importantly, was treated as an organic part of the drama. And with all the exciting air she created, there was a weird sense of silliness existing (maybe because of the straightforward rendition and also partially due to the help of “blonde stereotype”?), as if this lady had no real sense of the thing she thought she was ambitious about.

The “blonde stereotype” became even more after Macbeth came onto the stage. This must be the sexiest Lady. And there was even some sweetness in the singing. Think about the Erlking’s vocal line in Schubert’s “Der Erlkönig”--soft, sweet, and charming--one would be enchanted to do whatever asked even knowing the danger behind. And with Željko Lucic, Anya made plenty of chemistry. She colored her voice phrase by phrase illustrated the psychological development. Just check the several “follie” in her line showing how Lady’s mind swung.

Lady’s next out was after King Duncan was found murdered. I always think it a challenge for directors and singers to make this part reasonable. Here, Lady’s line is very consistent to all the others’ mourning the king’s death. But the question is, should she, who involved in the murdering, in the same mood with all the others? If she is just pretending, how should the singer makes the audience realize that she’s pretending and feel she does a great job on pretending? In this performance, the way they chose to solve the problem is to play it as Lady is really in the same mood as others, which could make sense considering the little light minded image she was characterized earlier on, plus, that this could very possibly be the first time for Lady seeing a person killed (as opposite to Macbeth who has experiences in wars). As a result, we got hearing some very pretty singing together with those high notes cutting through the chorus that everyone expected.

While changes began to take place.

In Act 2 Scene 1, we saw Lady had her hair tied up and was in business casual, as opposite to the loose hair and pajama in Act 1. This is a stronger and more serious Lady than previously in Act 1. After some short and intense exchanging between Macbeth and Lady came another “hit”--“La luce langue”. Tremendous as it ended, I felt even more excited listening to how Anya made the opening even muddy, and then how she skillfully paced it to full expansion. In my mind, I even could see a black rose blooming in a foggy wasteland--a true miracle.

Lady Macbeth was in her strongest mind in Act 2 Scene 3. Having the hair still tied up, this time, Lady was wearing a crown and a glamorous red gown. Here, Anya sang the brindisi with the fullest voice, with the intensity and agility attacking down all the high notes and going through the coloratura, with the ambition and pride for the power. As Macbeth began to crack down, it was this strong woman that hold the situation.

But, maybe it has been too much for the Lady?

Hence, when we got to Act 3, Lady’s hair was back to the style in Act 1. Seeing how she rushed to Macbeth, and sang with urgency, I felt love, though a weird kind, between them. She was still encouraging her husband and the singing was still strong but having less confidence and more stress than the previous act.

And Lady’s final ruin came as the famous sleepwalking scene. Here the hair changed again. It was still the loose blonde hair, but it lost the shiny smooth quality and became dirty and somehow tangled. Many may know from the previous runs of this production that in the opening of this scene, the singer of Lady Macbeth is asked to walk on some chairs. I had always been fascinated by how much Anya’s eyes could express. And this must be the first time I could not find anything in her eyes, is if she was blind. Then, she sang. Fearlessly she sang, to illustrate fear of the lady, with evenly expressive voice from lower register to top and phenomenal crescendo and diminuendo. And the way she had the line floating was masterful. Acting wise, she had it limited, but was crazy within the economical movements, and the result was convincing.

Together with Anya onstage were some best singers for these roles--the cast could very well be in a season opening or a new production gala opening.

Zeljko Lucic was in the title role. He might be the most important Macbeth in opera world today, having a true dramatic voice with the timbre required for the role. Apparently, he was comfortable in his part and was very familiar with it--he not only sang a lot in Macbeth around the world but also did the role of Macbeth when this production was created. Compared to Anya’s strong make-up, Mr. Lucic’s make-up was light. And with the stage light, it looked somehow pale. Together with the grey hair, the contrast and complex relation between Macbeth and Lady were visually illustrated well.

Having Rene Pape as Banquo and Joseph Calleja as Macduff is just luxurious. I could give no more than praising their great singing. Though other than the several beautiful arias, Verdi granted them little to shine through.

The chorus was a lesson of how opera chorus, different to symphony chorus or church chorus, should sing. I remember last season when Maestro Muti did “Macbeth” with Chicago Symphony Orchestra, there was an article about his rehearsal in which quoted his words to the chorus that in an opera, they should sound like being an ensemble of individuals not a simple one voice. And that was exactly the impression I got from the MET chorus in this “Macbeth”.

In the pit, Fabio Luisi leaded a solid playing of orchestra. However, I did experience something more exciting than this. It was a concert performance of “Macbeth” conducted by Maestro Muti in Chicago last year. But, well, just no one today can touch Maestro Muti in this repertoire. And I think another thing is that though MET orchestra has no less virtuosity than CSO, they, when sitting in the pit behaved more like an accompanist, while CSO, in a concert version performance, played on stage as if a narrator of the drama. Here, the stars were the singers onstage being their characters; while in the Chicago performance last year, the definite star is the orchestra (if we excluded conductor, since he did not produce any sound directly), and singers sounds more like part of the orchestration.

The question remains to me if the star individual characters could be combined with the star ensemble orchestra or they are essentially exclusive. Maybe I would get the answer when we have Anya collaborate with Maestro Muti. Please! And it would be even better in a new Regietheater production crafted for Anya. Then may we be able to hope a classics as the Red Dress Traviata? Anya has done a lot of great singing and acting since the 2005 Salzburg Traviata, but just none of them could have everything being just unique and “right”. It is not something one could achieve by just doing her own part great. It needed certain repertoire (some roles just have less potentials than others), certain partners, and certain, let us admit it, luck. And for this role of Lady Macbeth, I see the potential of building up something original and unique around it. Hope we could have the luck to really see it happens.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Il Trovatore, Salzburg 9/12 Aug 2014

Verdi - Il Trovatore

Salzburg 9/12 Aug 2014

Daniele Gatti, Conductor
Alvis Hermanis, Director and Sets
Eva Dessecker, Costumes
Gleb Filshtinsky, Lighting
Ineta Sipunova, Video Design
Gudrun Hartmann, Philipp Krenn, Associate Director
Uta Gruber-Ballehr, Associate Set Designer
Ronny Dietrich, Dramaturgy
Ernst Raffelsberger, Chorus Master
Huw Rhys James, Assistant Chorus Master

Anna Netrebko, Leonora
Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Azucena
Diana Haller*, Ines
Francesco Meli, Manrico
Plácido Domingo, Count di Luna
Riccardo Zanellato, Ferrando
Gerard Schneider*, Ruiz / Un messo
Raimundas Juzuitis*, An Old Gypsy
Members of the Angelika Prokopp Sommerakademie of the Vienna Philharmonic
Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera
Chorus Vienna Philharmonic

*Members of the Young Singers Project

Written by Herbert

Yesterday I saw the second performance of IL TROVATORE in Salzburg.

I love the production, although some critics say it was without any ideas. I don't hink so at all! To put the story in a museum, where the paintings begin to "live", is quite clever, especially in the first part. In the second part everything is destroyed and there doesn't happen too much on stage. But it is the part where Anna Netrebko has to sing several arias and duets, and she does it in such a fantastic way that you don't miss anything on stage. It is enough to see her alone on this huge platform and listen to her voice.

I hope the TV broadcast on Friday shows a lot of the whole stage, not just the open mouths of the singers, because there is a lot going on in this museum. ;-))

After the first night there were no standing ovations - that's what some critics moaned about. Well, I can assure you that yesterday there were many curtain calls and the whole house was on their feet!

After the show Anna and her fiancé Yusif left the Festspielhaus by car. She said though the open window that she was sorry, but they had to go to a special dinner, which was true, as I heard afterwards.

Before Placido Domingo left he came out to his fans, and he "bathed" in the crowd. He is a real treasure. He even waved this arm through the open window of the car when some young people greeted him (that's one of my funniest snapshots).

Everybody who has the chance to see IL TROVATORE on Friday on Arte, CLASSICA or on medici.tv - do so! It will be one of Anna's best roles!

All photos by Herbert

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, France 12 July 2014

Report and photos by

"Probably one of Anna Netrebko's best concerts ever" - it may sound like an ad for Heineken beer, but it is true.

Last night she sang at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, and it was an absolute triumph. The Parisiens - many young people in the audience - love and adore her. She was welcomed with ovations even before she had sung a single note.

It was the same programme as in Baden-Baden in June, this time with the Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava (conductor: Massimo Zanetti), and her tenor partner for two duets was Riccardo Massi.

Although there were numberless curtain calls at the end, she added only one encore (from Dvorak, "Rusalka") and then said she had to finish because she had to sing in Paris again on Monday.

All her arias and duets from Il Trovatore, Macbeth, Otello, Manon Lescaut, Adriana Lecouvreur were samples and "tasters" which made you wish to hear the whole opera sung and interpreted by her.

What a voice, what a presence!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Macbeth, Munich 2014-07-01

Report and photos by Herbert

The second MACBETH on 1 July was as sold out and impressive as the first.

Anna Netrebko's interpretation of the role of Lady Macbeth was intense, striking and certainly a new and promising step in her career.

After the show there was a big reception in teh Nationaltheater, so the singers didn't come out at the stage door, except Joseph Calleja.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Worldwide debut of Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth at the Opera Festival in Munich

Report and photos by:

Last night Anna Netrebko sang her first Lady Macbeth ever (worldwide!) at the Opera Festival in Munich.

Together with Simon Keenlyside (Macbeth), Joseph Calleja (what a luxury for the comparatively small role as Macduff!) and Ildar Abdrazakov (Banco) she was the star of the evening and enjoyed a very big success.

One may discuss the production by Martin Kusej. To me the first part was very static, whereas in the second part masses of people crowded the stage, sometimes in underwear, sometimes in uniform, sometimes naked - and the costumes are at least not a stroke of genius by a dress designer.

The same can be said about Anna's red-blonde wig. But you can forget all this when you see Lady Macbeth acting together with her husband or when you listen to Anna's vocal eruptions which brought the house down.

Having heard her now in Il Trovatore, in Manon Lescaut and in Macbeth, I can't believe that she once sang the roles of Adina in Elisir d'amore or Amina in La Sonnambula. What an impressive and unbelievable development of her voice! Her acting, too, is very convincing - as far as the production allows it. Whether she has to balance and sing (!) on a giant chandelier or to walk (in high heels) across a large field of white skulls - she is "the lady".

Standing ovations and many curtain calls for Anna and the whole cast and for conductor Paolo Carignani.

The next and already last performance will be on Tuesday. And then let's look forward to the new Macbeth at the Met in September/October - hopefully director Adrian Noble and his production team will offer a more inspired view of this powerful story than Kusej does.

Some official photos can be seen here.



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