Following in the fashion of many German opera productions of late, this risk-taking Macbeth pushes the envelope on various fronts. The opening performance elicited a powerful, verging on violent, response from the Munich audience and has since created a considerable amount of buzz around the opera world.
This is not your parents' or high school English teacher's Macbeth. This is a Macbeth that offers full frontal nudity, gallons of fake blood, a garden of skulls, children as witches, topless playboy bunnies in pink wigs, and a sexually ambiguous orgy scene.
Intense imagery, overwhelming vocals, evocative design elements, and Kusej's much-talked-about use of nude supernumeraries (and, more notably, their bodily functions) culminate in a production that Bloomberg.com critic Shirley Apthorp calls both "disgusting" and "one of the best Macbeth productions on the circuit." While taking note of certain "tasteless" directorial decisions, Apthorp ultimately gave it her highest rating of four stars.
Bavarian State Opera production notes describe the production as such: "In honeyed tones, Lord and Lady Macbeth reveal their passionate and bizarre emotions to us. But behind this beauty there lurks an abyss, which Verdi unveils with one of the cruelest dramas in the history of world literature. In their struggle to seize power and retain it once it has been usurped, Macbeth and his lady commit one murder after another. The unwavering nature of their desire imbues their love with a radicality that would have been unthinkable on the operatic stage before this work."
The central Lord and Lady are portrayed by Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic and German soprano Nadja Michael. Lucic - who has previously performed the role at the Metropolitan Opera and may be seen on the subsequent DVD release - earned postive reviews as a "bold, savage Macbeth who sings with solidity and detail."
But it is Ms. Michael - taking on one of the greatest female roles in literature, theatre and opera - who has run away with the lion's share of high praise. Apthorp - dubbing her "show-stopping Lady Macbeth" as one "of animal power and kamikaze commitment" - writes that the soprano "looks like a supermodel and sings like a banshee. The sound may be a matter of taste... her vibrato has a life of its own‹but you can't argue with the total impact. This is a Lady Macbeth to die for." In a similar turn of phrase, Jens F. Laurson writes of an "athletic, seductive Lady Macbeth who turns out to be Salome's Scottish sister in [this] ravishing interpretation... she was a Lady Macbeth to die - or rather, to murder for."
Also featured in the production are Roberto Scandiuzzi as Banco, Lana Kos as Lady-in-waiting, Dimitri Pittas as Macduff, Fabrizio Mercurio as Malcolm, Steven Humes as Doctor, R‹diger Trebes as Waiter and Christian Rieger as Murderer. Igor Bakan, T‹lzer Knabenchor and Armin Gramer play the 3 apparitions. Nicola Luisotti conducts the Bavarian State Orchestra, with Andr_s Mšspero heading up the chorus.
The design team consists of Martin Zehetgruber (sets), Werner Fritz (costumes) and Reinhard Traub (lighting).
Macbeth has 4 remaining performances this month, on October 9, 12, 17 and 20. It will return this spring for a three-show run beginning March 29 and is slated to be a part of the 2009 Munich Opera Festival, with performances July 21 and 24.
The Bavarian State Opera's current offerings include Bellini's Norma, Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, and a double-bill of Strauss' Salome and Rihm's Das Gehege. More than 20 other productions will be presented between now and May 2009.
For tickets and season information in English, visit Bavarian State Opera.
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All photos by Wilfried H‹sl for Bavarian State Opera.