Vancouver Opera's Macbeth: Italian opera based on an English play about Scottish ambitions
Vancouver Opera – Macbeth
Queen Elizabeth Playhouse
Nov. 25, 28, 30 and Dec. 2 2006
It was a cold icy night, with snow all around. I wore my wool kilt to the opera, to keep with the Scottish theme. Ancient Fraser of Lovat tartan for me… Saskatchewan tartan for my companion. Dressing up for the opera…
Macbeth is set in the Middle Ages10th Century – long before the
invention of the modern kilt. The famous Shakespearean drama was
written in 1606. In 1847, Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi
abandoned his planned opera of King Lear, and wrote Macbeth to
celebrate his favorite poet.
Fast forward to November 2006, the debut of this
Scottish-English-Italian opera in multicultural Vancouver – long home
to early waves of Scottish, English and Italian immigrants. This
city has long loved its opera. This province and city was built
by Scottish pioneers, becoming home to many Scottish cultural
traditions including the BC Highland Games, world champion SFU Pipe Band and a great Shakespeare tradition of Bard on the Beach.
Macbeth certainly has all the elements for a good opera: drama, murder,
and love. It is perhaps one of Shakespeare's darkest and deepest
psychological dramas and goes far to provide wonderful scenes for an
opera. The original libretto is amazingly loyal to Shakespeare's
original prose. Anybody who remotely remembers studying Macbeth
at high school or university, or sitting through any of the numerous
theatrical production in Vancouver will marvel at what they still
Macbeth and his fellow general Banquo encounter witches in a
wood who foretell a future where Macbeth will be king, and Banquo the
father of kings. This sets the world in motion for a man and his
wife who are impatient to be king, and insecure of holding that
position. In a worldview similar to Chinese warlords of the 5th
Century's Warring States Period – Macbeth is prompted by his wife to
kill any threats to their ill-gotten throne. It is all done in
the name to preseve power.
The scenes that follow showcase the singer's talents: Greer
Grimsley has a wonderful strong voice that belies the tortured anguis
of Macbeth, guilty of his actions. Jane Eaglen plays Lady
Macbeth, not as an evil woman but as a woman delighted to be on the
throne. Lady Macbeth's famous sleepwalking scene with the famous
words “out, out damn spot” as she tries to wash the blood from her
hands, is tender and plaintive.
Burak Bilgili's Banquo has a strong presence both as a living Banquo
before his death, and even as he prowls the stage as a ghost. John
Bellemer is the young Macduff, who rallies and leads the villagers
against the tyranny of Macbeth.
The original three witches of Macbeth, have been turned into a
of about 30 or more. Costumed in red, blue or aquamarine, they move
about the stage as if they are some kind of spiritual consciousness –
neither here or there, as they disappear and appear on their whim, or
threatened by Macbeth. A friend of mine who saw opening night's
performance, said that the chorus was wonderful. Indeed, the
power of the voices and the movement on stage was almost
A particularly “bewitching” scene was the famous cauldron, where
Macbeth implores the witches to tell him what they know. There is
no “physical” black caldron on stage. Instead, there is a light
grey cloth light by red light inside, expanding and contracting with
human figures. One by one, figures emerge from the centre to
speak to Macbeth. Visually brilliant and theatrically amazing!
Verdi's score is not dark and pondering like many modern operas such as
the works of Janacek or Stravinsky. It is still lyrical and
emotionally plaintive. At times the singing was so beautiful, I
forgot to watch the surtitles above the stage.
This Macbeth is also a co-production with Edmonton Opera and
Portland Opera and features visual projections by Jerome Sirlin, who
designed the award-winning sets for Broadway’s Kiss of the Spider Woman.
It makes sense that opera should now be going “hi-tech” with visual
projections. Sirlin has creates a forest with tree leaves waving
in the breeze, as trunks descend from above. The projection
changes, and the scene is now instantly a castle interior.
Following Banquo's murder, the castle walls are tinged blood red for
emotional effect during Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene. This
may have been a holographic first for Vancouver Opera, but Ballet BC
experimented with set projections for last year's
Rite of Spring which I reviewed. Those scene projections were done by my friend Jaime Griffiths, a local graphic artist and dance collaborator.
Kilt watching at the opera? I met one man wearing the St. Clair
tartan and one Opera Host wearing a Chinese jacket. Many people smiled
and acknowledged our kilts. It reminded me of past opera where I
saw people donning cheong-sams and Chinese jackets for Turandot and
even kiminos for Madame Butterfly.