Bristol Hippodrome

WNO Macbeth

October 2016

Lady Macbeth is fur coat with knickers!

When the Welsh National Opera performed the Scottish play at The Bristol Hippodrome this week there were 23 witches not three spitting out the mortal words ‘double, double toil and trouble; fire burn, and caldron bubble’ in spectacular dark movements accompanied by melodic music.

This was an avant garde and political interpretation of Macbeth magnificently performed by the WNO.

It covered genocide seemingly from the Balkans conflict to the ‘disappeared’ during the Chilean dictatorship and portrayed the corrupting lust for power in a chilling and deeply disturbing production.

Spanish baritone Luis Cansino as Macbeth, bass-baritone Miklós Sebestyén as Banquo and tenor Bruce Sledge as Macduff led the rag-tag army to honours but it was American soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams who stole the show as the deranged and greedy Lady Macbeth.

When the para-militaries filed in for the opening scene on an optically challenging stage you knew this was Macbeth but not as you remembered it from GCSE studies.

The three covens with their distinctive costumes ranging from bald headed hags with protruding rib-cages to menacing witches with grey matted hair and hunchbacks were not a pretty sight.

And Lady Macbeth makes her entrance wearing a KGB-style denim skirt topped with not-this-seasons leather jacket although as she elevates to royalty she dons her satins and furs with a wardrobe which could have belonged to Imelda Marcos the widow of deposed Philippine despot Ferdinand.

It all looked like a scene from the decaying Barrow mental hospital instead of bonny Scotland although there was a flashes of thistle, tartan, bagpipes and the St Andrew's Cross.

It certainly didn’t take the high road but the backlands of a Siberian gulag!

The company is huge – almost rent-a-crowd - and the finesse of the voices and the perfect timing was a mechanical marvel.

Oh I so love WNO yet when studying Shakespeare at school it was at this point Macbeth loses the sympathy of the audience, not so here.

The plastic and cellophane themes of bloodied death, the innocence of the young princes, the ghostly apparitions as grisly ends near – horror real time, great.

The video footage accompanying the Act IV chorus Patria Oppressa has heart-rending black and white scenes invoking all too tragic theatres of war.

The funeral scene with men in black wearing IRA-style berets and dark glasses with vocal calls of ‘more blood must flow’ from Macbeth sent shivers down my spine.

There were strange goings-on front of stage with men in football fan gear with striped bobble hats in the colours of Scottish teams  – no, it’s the uniformed garb of hooligans with cut-out eye holes - lamenting fishermen’s tales of catching the big one but the tiddler got away, mesmerizing.

The ghostly banquet scene with an eerily light on the extra guest at the top table gets worse as with a full moon backdrop, the witches dissect plastic baby dolls and a big stewpot cooks people past – bubble, bubble, what a potboiler of a story.

The orchestra and Malcolm (Simon Crosby Buttle) and Fleance (Tomi Llewelyn) the young sons of the protagonists all took a well deserved bow. 

Macbeth is just one of three productions inspired by William Shakespeare that make up Welsh National Opera’s autumn season, which will comprise a British premiere and two new productions. 

The season is part of the official Shakespeare 400 celebrations to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the great bard’s death while continuing WNO artistic director David Pountney’s creative approach to themed seasons.

 The Shakespeare 400 season will include the British premiere of André Tchaikowsky’s The Merchant of Venice alongside this new productions of Verdi’s Macbeth and Cole Porter’s classic musical Kiss Me, Kate.

Macbeth which is performed in italian with surtitles is a co-production with Northern Ireland Opera (NIO) and places Verdi’s classic opera in a contemporary setting, allowing for a new exploration of the tale of state violence, corruption and superstition. 

Carol Deacon

PHOTOS: Richard Hubert Smith

A bard brush with WNO

 

PREVIEW: Three productions inspired by William Shakespeare make up Welsh National Opera’s autumn season, which will comprise a British premiere and two new productions. 

The productions will be performed at the Bristol Hippodrome from Tuesday to Saturday, October  11-15.

The season is part of the official Shakespeare 400 celebrations to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the great bard’s death while continuing WNO artistic director David Pountney’s creative approach to themed seasons.

The Shakespeare 400 season will include the British premiere of André Tchaikowsky’s The Merchant of Venice alongside new productions of Verdi’s Macbeth and Cole Porter’s classic musical Kiss Me, Kate.

Macbeth is a co-production with Northern Ireland Opera (NIO). 

This new production places Verdi’s classic opera in a contemporary setting, allowing for a new exploration of the tale of state violence, corruption and superstition. 

Macbeth will be directed by NIO artistic director Oliver Mears and conducted by Andriy Yurkevych. 

Spanish baritone Luis Cansino sings the title role in his debut performance with WNO.  

Mary Elizabeth Williams returns to WNO following her highly-acclaimed performances with the company in Nabucco and Tosca to sing the role of Lady Macbeth.

Keith Warner returns to WNO following Peter Pan in 2015 to direct another British premiere, The Merchant of Venice which was first performed at the Bregenz Festival in 2013.

Composed by André Tchaikowsky, a Polish-Jewish composer and pianist who died very shortly after creating this opera, The Merchant of Venice is a powerful and serious attack on prejudice with themes closely felt by Tchaikowsky himself who was smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto with false identity papers and survived the Holocaust in hiding with his grandmother.

American baritone Lester Lynch makes his debut with WNO to sing the role of Shylock. 

He is joined by soprano Lauren Michelle who makes her UK debut with WNO in the role of Jessica, following her appearance at BBC Cardiff Singer of the World in 2015 where she was a prize winner representing the US. 

The Duke of Venice will be sung by Miklós Sebestyén who performed with WNO in Moses in Egypt during the 2014-15 season.  

The Merchant of Venice will be conducted by Lionel Friend.

The season is completed with Cole Porter’s classic musical Kiss Me, Kate in a co-production with Opera North which sits perfectly within the operatic repertoire and pays homage to Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. 

Jam-packed with hit tunes including Too Darn Hot, ‘Another Op’nin’ Another Show, and Brush Up Your Shakespeare, this new production will feature operatic and West End singers alongside the renowned WNO Chorus and Orchestra.

With show-stopping numbers and a story full of wit, humour and farce, Kiss Me, Kate is sure to leave audiences with a smile. 

The cast is led by Jeni Bern as Lilli Vanessi/Katharine and Quirijn de Lang as her ex-husband Fred Graham/Petruchio, both of whom starred in this production in 2015 at Opera North.

The story is set around their tempestuous relationship as they prepare to stage a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. 

Jo Davies will direct Kiss Me, Kate having directed the production at Opera North, and James Holmes returns to WNO to conduct on the October 13, with Gareth Jones conducting on the 14 and 15. 

Featuring spectacular costumes, dazzling choreography and hit after hit, the show will be a feast for the eyes and the ears.

WNO artistic director David Pountney said: “For our autumn season we join in the nationwide celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

"Music is everywhere in Shakespeare, from the fools and clowns whose songs pepper his works, to the sublime musicality of his use of language. It is hardly surprising that he has inspired so much music, and in this wonderfully diverse season you can enjoy him as tragedian, psychologist and witty entertainer.”

Click HERE for more details and to book tickets.

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