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Opera Carolina's Macbeth: Bewitched and Bedazzled

October 24, 2004 - Charlotte, NC:


Opera Carolina's October 24 performance of Verdi's Macbeth was a winner across the board - the stage direction was imaginative and dramatically effective, the lighting was outstanding, the choruses were well prepared with clear enunciation combined with appropriate acting, and all the principal singers were in good voice. How often does that happen? From a mezzanine seat in the Belk Theater in Charlotte's NC Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, in the pit, was in ideal balance with the singers on stage and played superbly under the alert direction of conductor James Meena.

The production was conceived and directed by Jay Lesenger with sets designed by David Gano and lighting by J. Michael Deegan. The wigs and makeup were by Martha Ruskai and Georgianna Eberhard, and the costumes, from Malabar Limited, were coordinated by Kathryn E. Grillo. The sets were provided by the New Orleans Opera Association. Choreography was done by Martha Connerton.

The unit set divided the action between a raised rear crosswalk with crude flagstone stairs at each end and a raked stage, dotted with large rocks. This was by turns a wild landscape, castle interior, Birnam Woods, etc. A large chorus of women was available to Verdi, so he changed Shakespeare's three witches to three covens, and in Charlotte there were around 20 singers in each one. In the opening scene, each coven sang their shrill words clearly, as one, while the three groups ranged and swirled about on all levels of the set. Apt darkness combined with a rotating spiral lighting pattern emphasized the action and highlighted the choreography of three dancers drawn from the covens. With suggestive architectural elements, the set became Macbeth's castle in Act I, s.2, and Act II, s.1 and s.3. In the latter, a large table converted the set to the banquet hall for the great scene with Banquo's ghost, who certainly had "gory locks." Act III, s.1, was especially effective. With the three covens eddying around the supposed rocky heath, different elements of the witch's brew were added to the cauldron with increasingly bright sparks, culminating in a large burst of flame. Scene 2 was quite a contrast: the set, representing Birnam Woods, was populated with another chorus, this time mixed, Scottish refugees bewailed their fate in "Patria oppressa!," a chorus very much like the more famous "Va pensiero" from Nabucco .

Baritone Mark Rucker seemed inexhaustible as Macbeth. Despite considerable physical action - at the end of the Banquo's ghost scene, he collapsed senseless on the table - his voice was as evenly produced and projected as at the beginning. With subtle inflections or full force, he fully portrayed Macbeth's many facets - his hesitation, his ambition, his rage, and his feelings for his wife.

Dramatic soprano Jeanne-Michèle Carbonnet appeared as Senta in the 2002 Spoleto USA production of Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer . The power of her voice was clear at the end of Act II, when her lines cut through the chorus and orchestra in the ensemble calling for vengeance for King Duncan's murder. She conveyed the full range of Lady Macbeth's character - her unbridled ambition in the "letter scene" of Act I, her rousing drinking song in Act II, s.3, and the pathos of the famous "sleep-walking scene" in Act III, s.3. Her voice was evenly produced from its softest dynamic to its most dramatic.

Mikhail Svetlov brought a full and rock-solidly supported dark bass voice to the role of Banquo. From his Slavic timbre, I could readily believe that he sings Varlaam in Boris Godunov and would not be surprised if he took up the title role. Tenor Franco Tenelli's fine, ringing sound enhanced the role of the much-wronged Macduff, and his aria mourning the death of his "little ones" was a highlight of the opera. His emotionally wrenching performance whetted this opera lover's appetite to hear him in more extended roles. Jason Karn brought a firm light tenor to the role of Malcolm, King Duncan's son and rightful heir, portraying his vulnerability immediately after the assassination and, at the end, his legitimacy to reign.

The smaller parts were well taken. With an unusually firm mezzo-soprano voice, Appalachian State University graduate Alexandra Walker-Kirby brought more character and weight than usual to the role of Lady Macbeth's Lady-in-Waiting. George Washington, III, portrayed the Doctor and Quincy Roberts, the Assassin. The offstage voices of the Three Apparitions were Michelle Evan Jarrell, Quincy Roberts, and Nora Wagoner. Fleance, Banquo's son, was acted by Jordan Washington.