Vivienne Kennedy reviews Macbeth, the second in a trio of Shakespeare inspired productions being performed by Welsh National Opera at Bristol Hippodrome this week
Before heading to Bristol Hippodrome last night I’d checked out a few reviews of Welsh National Opera and Northern Ireland Opera’s co-production of Verdi’s Macbeth and found them slightly mixed but I have to say for me it ticked all the boxes and then some. I loved it!
The story begins when Macbeth and Banquo meet the witches and are told that Macbeth will first become Thane of Cawdor and then King of Scotland while Banquo will be the father of kings. In this production the entire female chorus represent the three, and do so in perfectly choreographed and exquisitely sung style.
The first part of the prophecy becomes reality very soon when Macbeth receives news of the Thane of Cawdor’s execution for treason, told that the title is now his. For Macbeth and his wife, the next step seems obvious – they must kill the king in order for Macbeth to take his place, fulfilling the second part of the prophecy.
Duncan is duly dispatched and, although Lady Macbeth plants the bloodied weapon with his sleeping bodyguards, it is his son Malcolm who’s suspected of the murder. He flees the country, leaving Macbeth to take the crown.
That leaves just the third part of the prophecy unfulfilled, that Banquo will be the father of kings. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are so fearful for the future that they arrange further murders but ultimately meet their own deaths, her first, having been driven insane by guilt, and then him, killed on the battlefield having lost all hope.
As the opera is sung in Italian (with English surtitles) it perhaps helped that Macbeth is the Shakespearean play I am most familiar with, having seen several productions in the 30+ years since I studied it for ‘O’ Level. That said, WNO, under the direction Northern Ireland Opera’s artistic director Oliver Mears, have made it easy to follow.
The music, played flawlessly by WNO’s orchestra, is beautiful and quite varied, soft string sections followed by dramatic pieces full of power. And this is an opera that really showcases the company’s fabulous chorus, giving them plenty of moments to shine.
The principals all delivered strong performances but the stand-out for me was Mary Elizabeth Williams, appearing as WNO’s Lady Macbeth for the last time. I am very glad we got to see her; I’m sure Miriam Murphy, who takes on the role for the rest of the tour, will be fantastic, but by the end of the night I really couldn’t imagine anyone else portraying the multi-faceted character so well.
After enthusiastic applause there was one final surprise, a truly rousing chorus of Happy Birthday from the company for conductor Andriy Yurkevych, who by that time had joined them on stage – WNO even make that song sound incredible.
Tonight I will return to Bristol Hippodrome to watch Kiss Me, Kate, which plays until Saturday 15 October. It’s the show I’ve most been looking forward to since the season was announced, musical theatre rather than opera, but, oh my goodness, they’re going to have to perform their socks off to surpass Macbeth and I can’t wait to see them try!
For further information and to book online visit www.atgtickets.com
Image: WNO Macbeth. WNO Chorus (Witches) and Luis Cansino (Macbeth). Photo credit – Richard Hubert Smith