"Full of Sound and Fury"
by Tim Mottershead for remotegoat on 23/03/19

English Touring Opera use the tagline ‘opera that moves’. They certainly do that on several levels, and are currently on the road with 55 dates in 21 towns, presenting 5 shows including 2 children’s operas, plus much important outreach work. Their 3 main operas are Mozart’s ‘Idomeneo’, Rossini’s ‘Elizabeth I’, and Verdi’s ‘Macbeth’. The latter 2 toured to the opulent surroundings of Buxton Opera House, and I caught ‘Macbeth’ there on Friday night. The production, directed by James Dacre, was sung in the English translation by Andrew Porter, with surtitles. The surtitles proved unnecessary as in the superbly sung parts as the clarity of the diction was uniformly excellent, but proved useful in providing summaries to progress the plot between scenes.

The opera opened with a prediction for Macbeth (Grant Doyle) by a group of witche,s that he become Thane of Cawdor, and subsequently King of Scotland. Although this at first seems an impossibility, when it almost immediately transpires that he has had the title of Cawdor bestowed upon him following the treacherous death of the previous incumbent, Macbeth starts to contemplate the unthinkable. (His comrade-in-arms Banquo (Andrew Slater) is promised “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none” which also proves central to the story.)

Circumstances contrive to make King Duncan his house-guest. This provides Macbeth, goaded on by his wife, Lady Macbeth (Madeleine Pierard), the perfect opportunity to fulfil the terms of the prophecy and their vaulting ambition: they resolve to murder the King.

What impresses about this opera, and this production in particular, is the way in which music enhances Shakespeare’s original plot. This was aided by an effective set (Frankie Bradshaw) and lighting (Rory Beaton) which allowed for several scenes in unfold in parallel, in a way that was both slick and pithy. To give one example, Macbeth’s fears during the ‘dagger soliloquy’ was transformed into a scene that simultaneously contrasted his reactions with those of his wife: calmly and confidently entitled, sipping wine, as she relishes the glories to come.

The production was also spectacular in the best sense; giving the lie to the oft-made claim that opera is elitist. Again, to give one example, the scene where Duncan’s body was brought in, to a rousing unaccompanied chorus, was an incredible feast for the eyes and ears.

The cast was completed by Amar Muchhala as Macduff, David Lynn as Malcolm, Tanya Hurst as a Lady-in-waiting, and Ed Hawkins as the Doctor. They were complemented by some 20 more singers in roles as various as witches, assassins, servants, and soldiers. Conductor Gerry Cornelius made his way to the stage to take a well-deserved bow, but not before acknowledging the musicians in the orchestra.

One’s theatrical experience was enhanced by a handsome programme brochure, which besides the usual information on the company’s activities, contained scholarly essays about the 3 main productions.

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