A Teatro Real Macbeth That Nobody Understands

SpainSpain  G. Verdi, Macbeth: Teatro Real Orchestra and Chorus, Teodor Currentzis (conductor), Madrid Teatro Real, 5.12.2012 (JMI)

Co-production Opera Novosibirsk and Opera National Paris.

Direction: Dmitri Tcherniakov
Sets and costumes: Dmitri Tcherniakov
Lighting: Gleb Filshtinsky

Macbeth: Dimitris Tiliakos
Lady Macbeth: Violeta Urmana
Macduff: Stefano Secco
Banco: Dmitry Ulyanov
Malcolm: Alfredo Nigro
L. Macbeth’s Dame: Marifé Nogales
Medecin: Yuri Kissin

These performances of Macbeth proved once again that Gerard Mortier has become the central figure in Madrid opera. Apparently Mr Mortier courted some level of controversy during the press conference before the premiere by saying that this production was for intelligent people – thus causing some negative reactions among those present after there was a general difficulty in understanding the ideas behind it. That the production was received with a storm of boos only adds to the impression that this Macbeth possibly failed to get its point across! Without going into the discussion, I will say that what one should be able to expect from an intelligent artistic director is a cast well suited to the needs of Macbeth, which is was not the case here.

Dmitri Tcherniakov begins his notes to the program with this sentence: This Verdi opera has caused me much concern. For a long time I did not understand anything. I think many of us left the theatre saying exactly the same thing.

I don’t mind the opera being set in modern times. Nor does it matter that the director uses Google Earth to pinpoint the location of the action. Even the fact that he offers only 2 stages, a neighborhood yard and the living room of the Macbeths, does not worry me unduly.  It does not bother me either that Lady Macbeth performs several simple magic tricks during her toast. What does matter, however, is that this is Tcherniakov’s Macbeth and not that of Shakespeare, who was, incidentally, so greatly admired by Verdi.

The witches are the inhabitants of the village, but they sometimes sing and laugh (annoyingly in many cases) on stage and at other times they sing off stage, with a sound that sounds as if it were amplified.  And what’s the point of presenting the chorus of assassins (Trema Banco) with Banco himself in their ranks? Birnam forest does not move, nor even exist, except in the libretto. So since Mr. Tcherniakov not only directs, but also creates sets and costumes, why doesn’t he just write his own libretto as well?

As a stage director however Dmitri Tcherniakov proves to be excellent, working well with both with individuals  and with the chorus.

Leading the musical direction was Teodor Currentzis, whose reading I found both uneven and superficial. Uneven, because during the first part of the opera his conducting appeared at times to be out of control, which produced considerable lack of coordination between stage and pit.  It was superficial, because he often used huge amounts of orchestral volume, and ended with so much noise that it almost brought down the structure of the house – although this seemed to wake up the audience. No doubt that he is a promising and most energetic conductor, as he proved at some other moments, where he was truly moving, but he should moderate his impulses.

The Orchestra offered their usual high quality.

It came as a surprise when – whether due to Currentzis or Tcherniakov –  Macbeth’s final aria from the 1847 Florence version, which is hardly justified unless there is an exceptional baritone on stage. Sadly, this was not the case.

Greek baritone Dimitri Tiliakos was a more convincing Macbeth as an actor than as a singer. He is not the Verdi baritone required by the character, as he is short of colour and  amplitude. All this creates a monotonous interpretation, although he pays attention to nuances. The famous aria Pietà, rispetto, amore deserved the applause that lasted exactly seven seconds.

Violeta Urmana was again Lady Macbeth and she was as disappointing as last year in Bilbao in the same role. To me Violeta Urmana is not a soprano, although at one time she had the notes. The problem is that today her voice has lost much of its top register, and she often resorts to shouting. If you ask me if she hit the high D flat at the sleepwalking scene, I will answer: No, thank God! The aria Vieni t’affretta deserved six seconds of applause, while La luce langue got just one second more, with a silent reaction to her sleepwalking scene.  Mrs. Urmana should recognize her limitations and remove this character from her repertoire, along with some others, such as Leonora in La Forza del Destino.

Stefano Secco was too light for Macduff, falling below his performance in Bilbao last year. He sang La Paterna mano with gusto, but his vocal volume is reduced and his voice is not what the character requires. He got the longest applause from the audience after the aria, at just 10 seconds.

Dmitry Ulyanov was the best suited among the quartet. His Banco offered a big voice, not too elegant or noble. His big aria went by unnoticed.

In the supporting roles Alfredo Nigro (Mrs. Urmana’s husband) was a poor Malcolm, Yuri Kissin was serviceable as the Physician, while Marifé Nogales was the best among them as Lady Macbeth’s servant

Teatro Real was almost fully sold out. The audience gave a tepid reception to the artists, where the only timid cheers were for Teodor Currentzis, who seemed determined to show the public that Violeta Urmana deserved a true success.


José Mª. Irurzun