Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sleek Scenery, Sexy Soprano Serve to Make Shakespearean Opera Sizzle -- Opera Review: Macbeth at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Opera Review

by Giuseppe Verdi
Lyric Opera of Chicago
Thru October 30, 2010

Shakespeare and opera are two art forms for which reverent appreciation has always outdistanced my acute enjoyment.

I have attended numerous performances of both, in attempts to indoctrinate myself, but to date had not rendered the previous statement untrue. Perhaps it is incumbent on me to do more homework ahead of time, but I've just never experienced the same kind of emotional connection to opera or Shakespeare as I regularly do upon viewing performances in rock, jazz, musical theater and other dramatic realms.

So although I still try to attend 1-2 operas per season at the Lyric, going to one based on a work of Shakespeare--and a play of his I've never read or seen at that--probably didn't seem like a great prescription for rapture.

But not only did I figure that seeing Macbeth as an opera would at least introduce me to a famous story I've never really known, the photos and clips I saw on the Lyric's website just looked really cool.

Photo Credit: Robert Kusel
As such, I got myself a typical nosebleed seat and went last night. And while still largely devoid of innate operatic devotion, I enjoyed Macbeth more than most operas I've experienced.

Directed by Barbara Gaines, the founder and artistic director of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater who was helming her first opera, the production's scenery was inspired by Frank Gehry's Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park.

I love Gehry's architecture and appreciated the stage interpretation. I don't have any other Macbeths to compare it too, but liked what I saw. It also didn't hurt that unlike the "fat ladies" long associated with opera, as Lady Macbeth German soprano Nadja Michael was also quite sleek and sexy, even as seen through binoculars from six stories up.

While I am not astute enough to intelligently evaluate the comparative vocal abilities of opera singers, I definitely had no complaints about anything I heard from Micheal, Thomas Hampson as Macbeth or anyone onstage. And Verdi's score seemed to keep me engaged a good bit more than most.

Photo Credit: Dan Rest
I recognize that Shakespeare's genius is as much, if not more, in his language as in his storylines, but often it is a bit dense for me. So I didn't mind my introduction to Macbeth being devoid of it, especially as the narrative was superior to most operatic plotlines.

Even as a basic outline for operatic purposes, the scenario Shakespeare penned over 400 years ago still has great relevance as a tale of one's lust for power, the extent he (and his wife) will go to realize it and the consequences (real & emotional) that accompany its attainment.

So even if I still wasn't entirely captivated emotionally by the music or singing, considerable entertainment, enjoyment and enlightenment conspired to make my night at the opera quite enriching, and my initial exploration of Shakespeare's Macbeth a royal success.

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