Barrie Kosky’s Macbeth: No Light at the End of the Tunnel

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Verdi, Macbeth: Soloists, Chorus of the Zurich Opera, Philharmonia Zurich / Gianandrea Noseda (conductor), Zurich Opera, Zurich 23.4.2017. (JR)



Macbeth – Dalibor Jenis
Banquo – Wenwei Zhang
Lady Macbeth – Tatiana Serjan
Chambermaid – Hamida Kristoffersen
Macduff – Joshua Guerrero
Malcolm – Otar Jorjikia
Doctor – Reinhard Mayr


Producer – Barrie Kosky
Assistant – Sylvie Döring
Set, lighting – Klaus Grünberg
Costumes – Klaus Bruns
Stage assistant – Anne Kuhn
Chorus master – Ernst Raffelsberger
Dramaturgy – Claus Spahn

My colleague Rick Perdian reviewed this Barrie Kosky production last year when it premiered and he admired it greatly (review here). I missed it then and seized the chance to see its revival. I was not disappointed.

“You can have any colour, as long as it’s black” said Henry Ford. And black is the overriding colour of this production. The audience and orchestra start off in complete darkness and the stage reveals a man covered in blackbirds (ravens) which are picked off one by one by a group of semi-naked figures representing spirits. The gloom gives Kosky the chance to play with hallunications and figures appearing and disappearing into the darkness. It all fits neatly with Shakepeare’s play – apart from the complete absence of witches, the group of people from the underworld taking their place. Men have breasts, women have male genitalia, audience members reach for their opera-glasses. The set is virtually empty bar a chair or two; the set is spartan, a long tunnel disappearing into a black nothingness, lit along its sides rather like the Gotthard Tunnel. It works well, allowing the audience to focus on the almost spot-lit Mr and Mrs Macbeth.

Kosky mischievously adds some computer-controlled (or are they simply mechanical?) ravens for almost comic effect, though many found them distracting. There are some problems with the production: unless you have done your homework in advance with the synopsis, you would certainly be confused between Macbeth, Macduff, Banquo and Malcolm. They are all look-a-likes with the almost identical costume (black of course) and long lank black hair.

There were some changes from the original cast. Rick Perdian felt that Pavol Breslik was miscast last time round as Macduff, with insufficient gravitas. That is not a shortcoming I can level at the singing of his replacement, American tenor Joshua Guerrero. He sang his big aria ‘O figli, o figli miei’ with great skill, sufficient weight and rich tone.

Macbeth is sung in this revival by Slovakian baritone Dalibor Jenis; his voice is firm and strong, but not always loud enough to override the orchestra or Lady Macbeth. His acting skills also paled in comparison with those of Russian soprano Tatiana Serjan singing Lady Macbeth; he has not yet grown into the role. Serjan was simply splendid; singing with conviction in every bar. I was not troubled that Verdi had asked the voice sound raw and strangulated: Serjan’s voice is too beautiful for that, but suitably dark. It came as no surprise to read that she has sung this role in almost every major opera house, having first sung this role in 2002 in Turin in a David Pountney production. She received rapturous applause; the part fits her like a glove. Minor roles were all well taken, particularly a towering Wenwei Zhang as Banquo.

The chorus at the outset were rather rusty; entries were sloppy, not helped by being invisible (offstage) most of the time and having to rely solely on TV monitors to watch the conductor. They will no doubt improve as the series progresses.

The Philharmonia Zurich were the best I have heard them for a while – no doubt due to the dynamic conducting of Gianandrea Noseda, who breathed Verdian fire into every section of the orchestra. Perhaps this is not one of Verdi’s greatest operas, not one of the most intricate plots, with no characters to sympathise with, but in these capable hands and with strong voices, it supplies a fine night at the opera nonetheless.

John Rhodes

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