Macbeth In The Congo In Buenos Aires

BrazilBrazil Fabrizio Cassol and Verdi, Macbeth: Soloists and Orchestra. Conductor: Premil Petrovic, Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires. 4.10.2015. (JSJ)

Third World Bunfight’s Macbeth – photo: FIBA

Fabrizio Cassol and Verdi, Macbeth

Director/sets/costumes: Brett Bailey
Lighting: Felice Ross
Sound: Premil Petrovic


Macbeth: Owen Metsileng
Lady Macbeth: Nobulumko Mngxekeza
Banquo: Otto Maidi

Chorus: Sandile Kamle, Jacqueline Manciya, Monde Masimini, Siphesihle Mdena, Bulelani Madondile, Philisa Sebeko, Thomakazi Holland

Purists may shudder but there appears to be an increasing tendency to adapt works, albeit with varying degrees of success, to a situation or location – the so-called ‘Colón Ring’ of 2012 being a local example.

Carmen was given a South African adaptation in a well received 2005 film, and South African playwright Brett Bailey’s adaptation of Verdi’s Macbeth to the Democratic Republic of Congo – first presented in 2001, and now in the third 2014 version – is garnering widespread praise in productions from London to Auckland.

With the new director of the Teatro Colón still apparently filling his previous role as director of the Buenos Aires International Festival (FIBA), the way was clear for this Macbeth – set to close this year’s (10th) Festival – to come to the Colón stage for two performances (to be followed with two in Santiago de Chile).

Unfortunately, information about the work proved to be rather limited, at least in the one page in the FIBA catalogue, which also doubled as the hand programme: all we are told is “In this recreation, a group of Congolese refugees stumble upon a trunk filled with sheet music, costumes and gramophone recordings of Verdi’s Macbeth. This theatrical paraphernalia becomes the catalyst for a dramatic retelling of Shakespeare’s tale with the Macbeths as warlords, the three sisters as double-crossing businessmen and Dunsinane as the Great Lakes region of Central Africa.”

Quite the reason for this convolution isn’t clear as where the theatre ends and the ‘reality’ – supported with extensive graphic visuals of war and suffering – starts is blurred. As there is also no bios of the singers (or apart from their names, information on the orchestra), many people are likely to have come away thinking, incorrectly, that they are Congolese. In fact they are all young South Africans.

Ultimately the production is a redacted version of Macbeth, running to about 100 minutes without an interval. The music is largely familiar as most of the arias are included, albeit somewhat ‘Africanized’ with lively tempi and with an almost chamber-like feel from the 10-member orchestra. And while it parodies the excesses of a dictatorship the horrors are also made clear.

With such a small cast every member is important from the seven member chorus – which mostly sits to one side of the central raised ‘stage’ (with the orchestra on the other side). Owen Metsileng – just 28 years old, he told me afterwards – who played Macbeth is a promising baritone with fine timbre and volume. Nobulumko Mngxekeza as Lady Macbeth was powerful across the range. Otto Maidi, with a robust bass, was a fine Banquo.

The work is sung in Italian and despite three sets of surtitles, the usual one in the centre and additional ones on each side at the back of the stage, and despite the bilingual nature of the Festival, all were in Spanish – the more surprising as an English version surely exists.

Jonathan Spencer Jones

Leave a Comment