Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Macbeth in Leipzig: The Great Dictator by Peter Konwitschny

Macbeth, Oper Leipzig, December 15 2011

Conductor ..... William Lacey
Director ..... Peter Konwitschny

Duncan ..... Bert Franzke 
Macbeth ..... Marco di Felice
Banquo ..... James Moellenhoff
Lady Macbeth ..... Amarilli Nizza
Macduff ..... Giuseppe Varano 
Malcolm ..... Norman Reinhardt
Kammerfrau der Lady .... Jean Broekhuizen

Chorus of the Oper Leipzig (Alessandro Zuppardo)

Macbeth by Konwitschny is exactly the opposite to what Peter Stein did in his no-brainer production premiered in Salzburg last summer and then reran this month in Rome, where  I actually saw it. Konwitschny peeled off the story, found a way to spice it up with derision, and to mock the people who are obsessed with power no matter what. He made it funny, witty, and staged it brilliantly. He has that particular talent to turn the grave issues less serious, but less serious only superficially -- the essence of the story remains intact, and maybe just because of his approach the dramatic impact on you is even stronger. For the similar reasons I praised the Richard Jones production of Macbeth that I could see this year at Opéra de Lille.

This show opens with a scene of a big kitchen and the witches coming in and out from all the possible holes you can imagine: from the ventilation system, oven, from the washing machine, cupboards, the fridge, windows... from everywhere! The witches in this productions are your favorite desperate housewives, who --out of their boredom-- are cooking up the stories, nosing into other people's lives, create rumors, build the heroes only for the joy of destroying them... It is hilarious most of the time with the stage design and costumes definitely helping to define the tone.

Each time when a murder occurs on the stage one of the witches approaches the blackboard (placed on the side of the stage) picks up the chalk and marks an extra tally, while the other two rush to visit the murder scene with a vacuum cleaner -- to clean up the mess and puff a handful of red confetti. This works as a perfect antidote to the seriousness of the underlying story, while emphasizing the banality of evil. Whenever blood or wine is spilled out, instead of liquid there is a heap or red confetti.

The scene with King Duncan was the funniest part of the evening. Konwitschny decided to show us the King's room and the King himself getting ready for sleep: you see a hefty man taking the layers of his ceremonial cloths off, and finally --after being liberated of the bulk-- he bird-falls onto his bed [belly-wise.] And then, his two security guys come close, get rid of their hats and jackets and fall theatrically on the bed to join the King --one on each side-- and then a huge blanket covers them all.
That's when Macbeth and his wife --who we saw hiding behind and waiting-- come to murder the King and his "security". They actually jump in the bed, under the cover, and re-appear later on, with red gloves (blood) on their hands. While Lady Macbeth knows how to get rid of the gloves, Macbeth is terrified and paralyzed -- the paranoia sets in immediately. It's there where the complicity with his wife becomes concrete-strong.

Later in the show there is a scene that I thought was of extraordinary quality too. It's when the King Macbeth is at his zenith, but in constant need for self-aggrandizement, fearing someone would notice his weaknesses or snatch the throne away from him. This is how Konwitschny shapes the moment: While on the curtains behind Macbeth we see a play with shadows by which the witches are warning the King that his power wasn't going to last, his throne starts rising way up so that anyone who wants to talk to him needs stepladder. He becomes detached from the commons, and at the same time afraid to leave the chair. This is so brilliantly constructed -- it is again grotesque and funny [at first the chair starts rising in the kitchen, but soon the kitchen disappears leaving the King hysterical, scared, mad -- alone on a super-high chair], but again this is cut by an abrupt change of situation and as abrupt mood swing. Lady Macbeth is the only one standing next to him (on the stepladder), he's afraid of the fate the witches foretold him, he's paranoid, afraid of the height of his throne -- and that's when him and Lady Macbeth take the machine guns and start randomly killing their own people. The birth of a dictator is so banal, but so terrifyingly human. We saw it so many time in history, in the news... and in everyday life, just rescaled.

A number of details in this production is enormous and I could spend days writing about them. The death of Banco is particularly cleverly constructed, and the game with coffins was great. My only small objection would be the part leading to the Lady Macbeth's somnambulism scene. Witches are the working force who build the forest. Why? What's the point? They do it purposefully as to make Lady Macbeth even more terrified than she would be otherwise?! If so, was that really necessary?! That was the only detail that somehow stuck out of what should otherwise be one of the best opera shows this year.

The stage is organized in two layers: the front one is where the kitchen is quickly composed and as quickly decomposed when necessary to uncover the vast back part of the stage, organized in a semicircle, with the action taking place on and around the inclined platform, while in the background you can see large windows with a view on the Scottish Highlands. Big compliments to Jörg Kossdorff for the stage sets and to Michaela Mayer-Michnay for costumes. Spot on!

The whole show is really superbly structured, brilliantly directed, and perfectly executed -- but it must  have been hard to rehearse!

Musically the evening is surprisingly good. OK, I didn't have doubt that the Gewandhausorchester would be excellent, but I was totally impressed that William Lacey was capable to make them play so wonderfully. Again the overture was a tad too fast for my ears, but the rest of it was fantastic.

Marco di Felice is a very good singer and despite the obvious fatigue in the last parts of the show he delivered a fantastic vocal portrait of the King going mad. Amarilli Nizza is better actress than Marco, which is a welcome fact for this opera. She leads the show, and does it really wonderfully.  Her voice is not as big as Tatiana Serjan's --for example-- but her scenic presence compensates hugely the difference and makes her performance even more remarkable. Brava! In this series of Macbeth I got to hear some excellent young Italian tenors, and Giuseppe Varano is one of them. Even the very reserved crowd was weeping during his "Ah, la paterna mano" [Saxony thing?! -- in Dresden and in Leipzig the crowd is very reserved!]
James Moellenhoff was saving his forces for his big moment in this opera "Come dal ciel precipta."

Great great show, and the Leipzig folks have the Opera House with artistic qualities to be proud of!
Hope to be able to come back soon and see some more Leipzig Oper productions!

 Production photos:

My pics:

Marco di Felice and Amarilli Nizza

William Lacey

Wonderful desperate witches and the tally marks on the blackboard

Norman Reinhardt and Giuseppe Varano

Jean Broekhuizen and Milcho Borovinov

(too bad I didn't take the photo of Banco...)

This is one of the two photos I liked inside the theater...

... and --like in Karlsruhe-- the atrium is filled with pictures of the members of their ensemble. I like that!

I also learned that this production is not really new-new. It is actually a revised/revisited version of the previous Macbeth that Konwitschny presented 12 years ago in Graz.


No comments:

Post a Comment