Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Florentine Opera, Verdi, “Macbeth”

On Sunday, February 25, we braved the foul weather to take in the new production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Macbeth” at the Florentine. It was just a short skate downtown for us, but the real adventure was experienced by Georgie’s friend Kate, who was coming from Madison, and called us about 10AM to tell us that the first two Badger buses (her usual means of intercity transportation) had been canceled due to the weather, which left her with an option of a noon bus expected to get into Milwaukee at 2PM, which was going to make catching a 2:30 curtain rather dodgy. Then, she called back to say that there was an 11:00AM Greyhound and she would be taking that. The “Dog” got in at 1:15 (25 minutes later than scheduled) which left us plenty of time to get to Uhline Hall on time.

The performance was well worth the effort. Baritone Frederick Burchinal is a veteran of the title role and has sung it at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He showed a comprehensive mastery of the role in all respects. He was ably supported by soprano Cynthia Lawrence as Lady Macbeth, Stefan Szkafarowsky as a bearish and likeable Banquo, the Florentine Opera Chorus as the Witches, and the Milwaukee Symphony, ably lead by Maestro Joseph Rescigno, celebrating his 25th year with the Florentine. Jorge Lopez-Yanez sang well in the tenor role of Macduff, but acted rather woodenly. Admittedly, his music, especially in the key scene where he learns of the massacre of his family, does not give great scope for emoting.

“Macbeth” is one of Verdi’s earlier operas, his first big hit (“Nabucco” was a success in Italy but not so much outside it) and the first of his three Shakespeare adaptations. It is therefore not surprising that there are some false notes. Some of the transition music, such as after Banquo’s murder, seems unwontedly cheerful, and, as noted, Macduff’s big scene lacks vocal highlights that the Verdi of ‘Rigoletto’ or ‘Otello’ would not have omitted. On the other hand, there are some interesting inclusions: Verdi makes Lady Macbeth an enthusiastic co-conspirator in the planned murder of Banquo and his son, instead of taking direction from Macbeth as in Shakespeare. This makes her villainy more all of a piece, but then her decline into madness (in the very well-done and dramatic sleepwalking scene) seems rather abrupt. However, Verdi’s expansion on Macbeth’s soliloquy after the death of his wife, works very well and adds depth—Macbeth, now alone and surrounded by enemies, realizes that he will be remembered as a tyrant with “no friendly epitaph.”

The staging was very spare, with a canted turntable taking up half the stage, sliding panels defining the rear, and a copse of bare sticks representing various woods. I disagreed with the local paper critic on the costuming: the rented set was rather generically medieval (more Sir Walter Scott than “Braveheart,”) but I did not think it clashed badly with the sets.

All in all, a very fine, powerful production with very little to quibble at. We enjoyed it all the way through.
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