VERDI Macbeth (Conlon)
To be undertaking new roles in major houses (and in a new Fach) well into your seventies – not to mention conducting, including a planned Bayreuth debut in 2018 – is no small achievement. Yet there has been something anticlimactic about several of Plácido Domingo’s forays into the baritone repertoire.
Recorded in the singer’s ‘own’ house in Los Angeles last year (where he is General Director), this Macbeth is wanting in both musical and dramatic drive. We never see ‘the much vaunted courage’ which Lady Macbeth (in Act 2) hopes her husband will soon show again. Ever since the Witches, in the very first scene, prophesied a royal future for Banquo’s children, Domingo has presented a worried, frail individual. There’s little internal conflict in his usurper: the final ‘Mal per me’ – predictably added in for this performance of a Paris version which even includes some of the ballet – feels like his natural habitat. Only this aria, and some of the more Shakespearean texts of his early scenes, sound naturally baritonal from this artist. Much of the remainder sounds like a tenor reaching low.
Serbian stage director Darko Tresnjak has an impressive CV of theatre and musical successes in America. The set has two useful levels and the costumes provide the sort of non-specific medievalism you might have seen in your last school production. But Tresnjak seems nervous of getting his hands dirty in this opera with actual Personenregie and leaves the soloists and the chorus to their own devices. Unfortunately he has picked up one of the least interesting tropes of Macbeth staging: having the witches acted (or, in this case, danced) by extras who appear in every scene like a spoiler soundtrack whenever something evil is about to happen. Enough already, we get the point. They (I think they’re all or mostly girls) look truly hideous in painted body stockings, squashed red insect wings and dark tribal make-up with rodent-like animal tails. The uncredited choreographer has also decided they should spend much time squatting with backsides towards the public as if relieving themselves.
There is one outstanding performance: Ekaterina Semenchuk’s Lady Macbeth, a mezzo with just the right kind of gritty yet gleaming tone – and a great top – to encompass Verdi’s non-bel canto demands. She also acts with careful minimalism, at least until habitual end-of-scene parade ground stares to encourage applause from the dress circle. James Conlon’s conducting tends to hang back until encouraged to accelerate by the soloists. The filming seems to reflect faithfully an atmosphere which is dark and muddy apart from the follow spots on the Macbeths. This is only really recommendable for Semenchuk and those collecting everything Domingo has done.