Sunday, December 18, 2011

Macbeth in Muti's house: When in Rome do as the Romans do

Macbeth, Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, December 9 2011

Director ..... Peter Stein
Conductor ..... Riccardo Muti

Macbeth ..... Dario Solari
Banco ..... Riccardo Zanellato
Lady Macbeth ..... Tatiana Serjan
Dama di Lady Macbeth ..... Anna Malavasi
Macduff ..... Antonio Poli
Malcolm ..... Antonio Corianò

Orchestra e Coro del Teatro dell’Opera
(Roberto Gabbiani)

I have quite mixed feelings about this show. Yes, it is always wonderful to visit the Rome Opera Theater. It's been a number of years since the last time I was there and, after all the refurbishing, the theater looks delightfully elegant and beautiful inside, even if rather ordinary from the outside. To that add a peculiar charm of the exuberant and yet laid-back Roman crowd, the 'unbearable' amount of charm carried by the Roman women (their posture, the way they carry themselves and the way they speak is theater on its own), then you can say the evening was quite memorable. The house was full on the night I was there, and that was not a surprise since Riccardo Muti was conducting an opera by Verdi -- it was a must-see show for the Roman crème, the buzz was huge, and the electricity in the air was quite obvious.

And so I come to the delicate part in which I should say something about the show itself. In one sentence, scenically, the Peter Stein production is plain awful. It is stylistically outdated, dramatically slow and pale, the actors are only loosely directed, and practically  zero idea was breath into this piece. Directing MacBeth is like a gift on the platter for any talented director. For the operatic purposes of his time, Verdi pretty much butchered the eponymous play, and that actually gives lots of space to a director to let his/her creativity fly. The theme of the greed for power is universal and to play along is almost straightforward.
In this show, despite its two intermissions (why two?!), the long shadows of boredom were too frequent to be ignored even when the musical parts are more than enjoyable. This kind of ceremonial stagings nowadays only exist on the DVD recordings from the Met in the 70's or 80's.

This very same production has been premiered last summer in Salzburg, with a somewhat different cast, and with the different orchestra, but his star-ness, Riccardo Muti, was the main attraction both in Salzburg and in Rome.

Even if Muti and his autocratic conducting are not my cup of tea, I must admit the evening was musically brilliant. The orchestra --that normally does not sound this great-- was outdoing themselves. They all had their eyes set on the Maestro, who was using his "wand" purposefully  and the magic worked -- he was pulling the sounds exactly the way he wanted and filled up the large Roman house with magnificent music. In spite of the too-fast overture, the tempi were impeccable, he was never even near to drowning the singers, and yet the orchestra never sounded subdued. Great stuff!

What can be slightly annoying during the Muti nights at the opera is that he knows how to emphasize his importance: before each of his entrance to the pit he keeps the crowd waiting in the dark for 2-3 very long minutes. "Dickish" by some, "Gradioso" by many,  "Who cares?!" for the others. 

Muti is known for his insisting that the music should totally dominate opera, and the stage action should be reduced to the static hands-waving characters that either simper or make annoying tragic facial expressions. I speculated that Stein delivered the show he was asked to by Muti. I refuse to believe the master of the Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz was unable to produce anything better than this...
I like this photo because it combines the palm tree with the Christmas tree, with the Rome Opera House in the background, and it was like +20C outside, and loud Romans with big smiles meeting in front of the theater

But let me focus on the good stuff. Musically the evening was a treat and Muti did a fantastic job. He rarely comes up with big singing stars. He usually brings new singers, those who do what he asks them to -- and the formula is regularly the winning one. Tatiana Serjan is a superb Lady Macbeth. If the show was better I guess I would have been totally conquered. While I loved her singing, her scenic presence was not particularly captivating. Ah yes, at the very beginning, when she was supposed to read the letter, her voice started inadvertently cracking, and you could tell the drama was happening on the stage, in the pit, and spilling over to the crowd -- will she be able to sing?! The moment she started to actually sing, her voice beamed gloriously showing no strain whatsoever. I also believe that thanks to two intermissions her voice didn't tire at all, which is almost always the case with Lady Macbeth in the final parts of the show. I don't believe anybody can sing and act the title role of this opera the way Scott Hendricks can, but you have to praise Dario Solari for what he was able to do. He clearly spills his guts out there to keep his voice voluminous and authoritative enough to fill up the big Roman Opera House, and even if he was struggling in the last part of the show, this was a magnificent performance. Bravo!

Riccardo Zanellato is "baritoning" most of the time but is managing to bring the emotional side of Banco that the Roman crowd welcomed warmly. Antonio Poli is a brilliant young Italian tenor and is definitely the one to keep an eye on. Macduff is a relatively short role -- practically the one aria role in this opera -- but exposes the talent, the interpretative skills, and the quality of the voice. If he can sustain this level of singing in a longer role, then here is your big tenor for tomorrow!

In the end Muti of course reaped all the cheers, and a big part of them he definitely deserved. However, I kept wondering why nobody booed the staging. One reason, I believe, is that the public could not focus on what's going on on the stage because they were busy reading the libretto. For whatever the reason the Rome Opera decided not to provide the super-titles, which --in my opinion-- is a killer for the opera. You need help from time to time and the super-titles is what keeps you hang in there when the incomprehensible patches occur. In Rome, very many folks had their iPhones turned on and pointed down at the libretto, to follow the text. You may be conservative and protective of the tradition, but rational at the same time!

I learned from the program that the version we were given that night in Rome was actually revision that Verdi made prior to the Paris premiere in 1865, although Muti picked bits and pieces to attach it to the original score too [Yours Truly did not notice the difference though.] It appears also that this is the Verdi opera that Muti has conducted the most in his life.

This is the first thing you see when you enter the Rome Opera

Production photos © Silvia Lelli [mostly from the Salzburg shows]

My camera died before the curtain calls, so just a few photos of the show/theater:

One of the most beautiful theaters today!

Nested in a very solid-strong full-of-marble building is this  beautiful auditorium

Many folks take photos during the show. To me that would be fine if it is quiet and with NO FLASH -- for God's sake! Ah yes, this was one of the colorful --albeit very static-- scenes, after the murder of King Duncan
Riccardo Zanellato

Tatiana Serjan and Dario Solari

Riccardo Muti

There are no video excerpts of this show, as far as I know (I would not be surprised if they'd scheduled a DVD release...) but to get a vague idea of how it actually looks see this:

Tagesschau  vom 02.08.2011

1 comment:

  1. I am speechless. It is a unbelievable weblog and really partaking too. Nice work! That's not really a lot coming from an novice blogger like me, however it's all I could suppose after having fun with your posts. Nice grammar and vocabulary. Unlike other blogs. You actually know what you're talking about too. A lot that you simply made me wish to learn more. Your blog has grow to be a stepping stone for me, my fellow blogger. Thank you for the detailed journey. I really enjoyed the 6 posts that I have read so far.