Monday, June 14, 2010

Macbeth in Brussels: The best Warlikowski so far?

Macbeth, La Monnaie/De Munt, June 13 2010

Krzysztof Warlikowski

music direction  Paul Daniel 
direction  Krzysztof Warlikowski 
set design and costumes  Małgorzata Szcześniak 

Macbeth         Scott Hendricks 
Lady Macbeth    Iano Tamar
 Banco        Carlo Colombara
 Macduff     Andrew Richards 
Malcolm        Benjamin Bernheim 
Dama di Lady Macbeth     Janny Zomer 
Servo / Medico / Araldo     Justin Hopkins 
Sicario      Gerard Lavalle 
Apparizione     Jacques Does

La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra & Chorus

To me, this was probably the best Warlikowski experience so far. If you can possibly go and see this show it's definitely not to be missed. One should particularly highlight the name of Malgorzata Szczesniak because without her sets and costumes Warlikowski's shows would never be this huge. Her sets are like an organism, in permanent development, movement, and you could tell she knows how Warlikowski operates, how he thinks. In some sens, she's his arms. 

Scene of La Monnaie/De Munt during the intermission of Macbeth

More than in other Warlikowski-productions, here I have impression that the director and conductor worked together and they convened to choose the timings as to impeccably synchronize the orchestra & the chorus with a dramatic action on the stage.

But this goes beyond director-conductor collaboration and it seems as if all the members of the team were adsorbed in the same project. It's theater that lives on stage, "right here and right now". For example, Scott Hendricks is THE Macbeth for this show. If there was any other singer/actor instead of him, the show would have been modified as to include that other singer/actor so that he feels at ease and can give the best of him. So the show would be different too.
From what I read in the interviews with Warliowski and after having seen this show,  I believe the show is shaped/sculpted as to adopt everyone involved in creative process and make a production truly unique. This is what makes Warlikowski's shows so special, and what justifies a common saying, "theater is life". We all share that unique moment with actors, with the orchestra...,  when something truly unique has been created, something you cannot see on DVD, or next year... You can only see it right here and right now. Any revival of this show, would be similar but very different with respect to this one. This is a magic formula to play with to preserve authenticity of theatrical language...

In short, this is the best what a theater can offer you today anywhere in the world. Add to that the Monnaie orchestra at their absolute best I've ever heard them play, you get one of the top-5 shows of the year [and if you followed my blog, I was really lucky this year when I chose the shows to see outside Paris].

Children carries a coffin of King Duncan, the same King who also lies in blood on the bed behind: inaginary (in Macbeth's head) coexist with real
Warlikowski's Macbeth is a complex show. Many things are happening on stage simultaneously, with lots of video-art, and everything is made to make things slightly ambiguous, although a clear fil rouge is always present by which Warlikowski respects libretto, although he's far from simply rolling the show along libretto. He multilayered the story and made it rich not only visually but also in terms of its Shakespearian content.

The main character is not what you usually get in Macbeth: a person driven by desire for power commits crime and becomes paranoid about his entourage, ending in madeness and eventually dies.
Here it's more complex and more humanized (sorry for the unfortunate use of word but no other word comes to mind). In this show, Macbeth --like the other male characters-- is coming back from war and struggles to cope with normal life. The show begins with a letter from a soldier (read in English) from  written during the Vietnam war. In what followed there was NO reference to the Vietnam war; it's about the heroes who return home after ANY war and end up as victims of their own nightmares, their own experience, and perhaps their own remorses. Macbeth is incapable to make peace with his past, with what he did, with crimes he committed. He's unable to put it all behind and takes his life head on. The reason seems to be that something elementary human in him has been broken, stained with blood and damaged during the war. Living normally is impossible for him and he logically become a sociopath.

The persons inhabiting his visions [the witches, remember?!] are here mostly children. Their role is somewhat ambiguous, but  I believe: (1) They represent that innocence he's lost [after the first war crime he committed or seen his friends commit them], they remind him how impure he is. (2) They represent the missing catalyzer that would bring him strength to get on and live normal life.
His life with Lady Macbeth is unbearable to him -- they have no children, they lived separate lives during the war and to restart the new life there is nothing that connects them any more. The years of war are like an abyss. That's one way you can explain the presence of the doll house from the very beginning of the show. In addition this can explain why they, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, need a common cause, an ambition to climb up the social ladder and become King and Queen. This will reconnect them. This also explains why Lady Macbeth acts the way she does: she's not just a  passionate complice in his crimes, she acts as if by each crime she does, she proves her love for/to him.

From that perspective the reasons for killing Banco also become multifold. Of course you clearly see the part you can find in the synopsis, but it is also because Macbeth wants wipe out his past and anyone who witnessed the crimes he committed had to be killed. That Banco-phobia helps explaining his reaction in Act-3 too...

In the second part (Act-3) Warlikowski's scene is a mental space of Macbeth's road to madness. The game with the doll-house becomes unbearable and the dolls (children) are coming out from the doll-house, throwing dolls around him (did he kill babies in his war, and that makes his life so unbearable?). He desparately wants to contain those dolls in one place [he does not want anyone to know about the atrocities he committed]. During these scenes, you can see in a background a peaceful black/white video image of a kid floating in a boat on the lake... It's that contrast --with a superb light effects [Felice Ross!!]-- that makes you literally feel the madness arrive.

The scene in which the children of Macduff are killed is very strong too. There you find Warlikowski, a big cinephile; he takes the scene from Downfall [Der Untergang] -- remember the one in which Frau Goebbels poisoned her children?!

While this atrocious scene is happening, Macduff is in the back. He's back from his war, probably killing his war-friend too, and is preparing to avenge the death of his children -- to kill Macbeth...

This is only a rough description of what you can see and feel in auditorium. You've got to see the show to understand why I was so enthusiastic ;)

This very nontrivial drama gets its full glorious dimension by music. It's impeccably conducted by Paul Daniel, and the orchestra really surpassed themselves.  La Monnaie is approximately of the size of the Opéra Comique in Paris, and you couldn't afford to have a big chorus on the stage. So, what they did instead was to placed them  in the galleries, way up on both sides of auditorium, producing a magnificent effect, perfectly appropriate for this opera: their big numbers come with Macbeth's visions,  while everything surreal is happening on the stage.

The last but NOT least -- the singers/actors. What to say? They were all remarkable because (a) that's what they are, (b) because Warlikowski tailored the show to make them give their best. That probably the most applies to Iano Tamar who is not Lady Macbeth with the vocal size of Violeta Urmana (for example), but she shines 1000 colors on that stage, and her incarnation of Lady Macbeth is more than passionate. Carlo Colombara is one of those rare stars among Verdian singers of our times, and he had it all yesterday: his voice is dark, large and voluminous, while keeping his scenic presence remarkable.

Carlo Colombara and Iano Tamar at the curtain calls

Malcolm, sung by Benjamin Bernheim, is my personal favorite (he's only 25!)  I so love those tenors who sing with open throat and once they start singing you feel alerted as a spectator, and fast looking across the stage to detect the face behind that luminous voice.  His voice could easily fill up a bigger auditorium as la Bastille or the Met. He will be singing in Zurich most of the next 2 seasons (Unfortunately the pics I took of him and of Paul Daniel during the CCalls are blured.)

Andrew Richards

Andrew Richards was at his usual high standard. This is not Parsifal, but he was scenically at ease, his aria 'O figli miei' was brilliant. Bravo to him! [If Andrew reads me: I know we're hard to please but  blowing kisses after the show is a tad tacky ;) ]

Scott Hendricks

Scott Hendricks makes his debut as Macbeth in Brussels and what a superb debut that was!  The role is vocally tough and very long, and even in a shabby "park & bark" kind of production it would be hard. To sing it in a Warlikowski's production is XX-hard: you have to be scenically exceptionally good because it's you who carry most of the show on your shoulders. And he did it wonderfully! 
I saw him last season in Paris, in Krol Roger, when he replaced Mariusz Kwiecien. He was good there but this is so much bigger. Congratulations and bravo! 
I see he will be mainly singing in the US next season, but I hope we will see him back to Europe sooner rather than later. 

This is one of the Top-5 shows I've seen this year (three shows at the Komische, and Parsifal in Stuttgart come close, but it's definitely more thrilling than the excellent Hollander in Amsterdam, or Rienzi at DOB). Warlikowski rulz!

Bernheim, Colombara, Tamar, Hendricks, Richards, Hopkins, Lavalle

Zomer, Bernheim et al clapping Scott Hendricks

Between Tamar and Hendricks is Paul Daniel (the only pic of him I took that is not totally blurred) Next to Hendricks is Warlikowski

For more photos see


  1. Wow it sounds fantastic - and Andrew Richards is again in the cast

  2. Thank you so much for this review, which makes me even more impatient (if possible) to be there on the 27. In the meantime I'll see the Paris Walküre, maybe it will help to wait...

  3. Re. the chidren, they're a semi-famous unseen element of Shakespeare's version: Lady Macbeth said 'I have given suck and know/How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me'. But Macbeth often remarks on how he is childless- at the start of Act 3, for example. Shakespeare's own son died, and at the time infant mortality was the norm. Warlokowski knows his Shakespeare, so it wouldn't surprise me if he was thinking of this.

  4. Not a very good production. Musically great: singers, director, choir. Warlokoski abuses the video and brings up topics that do not have any relation with the opera or with the line he is trying to develop(the video distracting- dance). Why this desrespect to those small kids who are asked to act as prostitutes(first act)? Is he wants to talk about innocence, the first place to start it is by respecting the innocence of his own participants, these small kids! Just looking at all means to be known and to be recognised. Very bad choice!!

  5. Warlokoski ;).
    Looks to me, though, like a production I wouldn't like either. Wheelchair -- seen a thousand and five times before in opera and never to good effect. Video projection - go away with that.
    The rest -- maybe, probably not.

  6. Dear Anonymous-es :)

    To the first I can wish the show to be at the level of what we've had this past Sunday. It was the most memorable production of a Verdi opera to me.

    To the second one, big thanks for that note. I wouldn't be surprised Warlikowski thought about it too. He actually produced Macbeth [the "true" one, not an opera ;)] in Hamburg so I believe he's studied it in great detail. In an interview he said he matured since that Macbeth in Hamburg...

    To the third: With all due respect I cannot disagree more. Everything in this production is used to support the dramatic action, to give it a unique appearance and make a show the best theater can give you anywhere in the world -- which in an opera is VERY rarely (never!?) the case. But hey, it's good to disagree too :)

    To the fourth: Broadly I agree with that attitude in which video changes the real theater. Warlikowski uses video as video art and it's fully used to support the dramatic action. It never replaces it! It's easy to dislike Warlikowski's production on the first sight because they are different and often disturbing -- they don't entertain you as much as they challenge you. But if you scrape beneath the surface it's the whole new theatrical world that opens up in front of you.

    I believe that this is the only clean way how the live theater can survive the rapidly developing technology... but that's another topic ;)

  7. Aren't you happy though that a lot of anonymous people read your blog? Better than no readers at all ;)? Better than 0:0 on all entries...

  8. Some beautiful pics:

  9. Ah thanks ever so much! I'll make a spearate entry on that tomorrow. The show of the year, no doubt about that! Paul Daniel with the orchestra were absolutely perfect too.

  10. By the way
    Carlo Colombara in Banko:

  11. photo blog

  12. Thanks for that.
    The site seems to be down right now.