• Macbeth at the Met + encounter with Thomas Hampson

    I've attended Macbeth at the Metropolitan Opera House tonight, and went backstage to meet Thomas Hampson.

    First, let me tell you about him. He's very friendly and funny.

    I was looking for his room, peeking at the names on the doors, and he bumped into me on the corridor when I was reading another singer's name on a door, and he asked: "Are you looking for Günther?" [Günther Groissböck, in the role of Banquo.] I said, "no, I'm looking for you!" He said, "Almaviva?" I said, "yes" and he said "io sono Figaro."

    We went to his dressing room and chatted a bit about the interview [still pending publication, read a teaser here]. I told him he gave me many interesting leads but I couldn't follow them because our time was limited, said I'd have loved to chat about opera with him for hours, given his knowledge of the art form. He thanked me, and said the interview came out quite nice, then added that he liked the teaser with the excerpts as well. He hasn't revised it yet to fill in the blanks (certain parts were hard to understand on the recording due to the cell phone connection), said he'll do it tomorrow on the plane when he flies to Germany for his masterclasses and concerts.

    We talked about Elmer Gantry, the opera, and his desire to see another treatment of the subject. Then we talked about Macbeth. He said he likes this production but finds it a bit slow, without a lot of movement. My impression exactly, I told him that especially the witches were too static (more on this later). He said, "well, all productions have ups and downs, things that work and others that don't."

    Then I asked his opinion about the fact that it is updated, with machine guns and jeeps. He said, "I don't really mind this kind of thing, I'm fine with it."

    I told him I bought his "best of" CD tonight at the Met Shop and asked him to sign the cover. He signed "For Almaviva, best wishes, Thomas Hampson." [Almaviva, he wrote, not my real name, which is neat]. Then I asked for a picture with him; not for publication, just a personal souvenir (he still had his make-up). He removed the make-up and tidied up a bit, and we went out in the corridor to find someone to take the picture. We bumped into a little crowd waiting for him (including his beautiful wife). He chatted with a bunch of people, and asked a young lady there who apparently works either for the Met or for him, to take the picture. She took two pictures, and insisted with me that it's not for publication. I said, "sure."

    He went back to his dressing room, chatting with a white-haired lady; I didn't see her face, she was facing him and had her back to me. Then she left, I went in again, just to shake hands and say good-bye. We said our good-byes, and he added, "do you know who just left? It's Marilyn Horne!" I said, "no way! OMG!" He said "hey, run after her, talk to her, tell her I said so." I thanked him again and ran after the lady, said, Ms. Horne? She turned, I explained to her who I am, said I had interviewed Tom Hampson and he suggested that I talked to her; gave her my card, asked her to give it to her agent, and maybe she'd be willing to talk to Opera Lively as well. She asked about Opera Lively, I explained to her what it is, she said, Oh, OK, nice! and kept the card, put it in her purse. I said I was honored to have spoken to her, and left. Whether anything will come out of this, I don't know, but I was still thrilled to exchange some brief words with such a legend as Marilyn Horne.

    OK, now, the production.


    Conductor, Gianandrea Noseda
    Production, Adrian Noble, revival (originally from October 22, 2007, also at the Met, with Zeljko Lucic as Macbeth)
    Set and costumes design, Mark Thompson
    Lighting design, Jean Kalman
    Choreographer, Sue Lefton

    Tonight April 9, 2012, last performance of the run.

    Macbeth, Thomas Hampson
    Banquo, Günther Groissböck
    Lady Macbeth, Nadja Michael
    Macduff, Dimitri Pittas
    Duncan, Raymond Renault
    Malcolm, Richard Cox


    Maestro Gianandrea Noseda is the musical director at Teatro Regio di Torino. He must be a master of the Italian repertoire, because I found his conducting extremely precise and confident. The Met Orchestra responded beautifully to him (unlike two recent Met performances that I saw, when the orchestra seemed to be missing Levine quite a lot). I believe that the sounds from the pit were rather perfect, flawless, and added a lot to the quality of tonight's show.

    These sets are extremely beautiful, one of the most visually striking I've seen lately. I only took one picture of the curtain calls, and it doesn't really render the beauty of the sets, but you can have a pale idea:

    Anyway, we get this huge round space in the middle of the stage, and trees and trompe-l'oeil in the background. What you don't see in this picture is the much larger three trunks that have luminous rings around them which here for the curtain calls got moved to the sides. They move right and left and create new spaces (like a bedroom). Some beautiful panels slide down from the roof to help creating the different environments, and some very appealing special effects happen as well, with a huge crystal ball where the apparitions make predictions of what will happen to Macbeth, and golden rings with statues of Banquo's unborn sons come down from the roof, traversing beams of bright green lasers. The time is updated to some time after the war, with modern weapons and a jeep.

    It's all very tasteful, and the lighting design is simply phenomenal, being in itself another very successful element in this show. Obviously Mark Thompson and Jean Kalman are very competent. Quite a spectacle! It made me think how good the Met stage is thanks to its huge size that can be used beautifully and efficiently as a dynamic space, and how cramped it all seemed when Lepage filled it all with his machine for the Ring cycle. Oh, by the way, I took this picture of the Ring banners, outside:

    Now, in terms of choreography, it's another matter. I don't think Sue Lefton was as successful (and Mr. Hampson seems to agree). I'm not sure how much she was responsible for other dynamic movements on stage, and these were very well done (like the sleepwalking scene). Generally speaking, most broad movements of the chorus, soldiers, etc., as well as the lead singers, were harmonious and well executed. But the problem is, they were very slow - which I can accept as a concept of this staging: it seemed more like a solemn and somber reading, they weren't going for excitement. For the most part, it works, except for the witches. They were unconvincing from the beginning, and the famous witch dance of the third act was the biggest disappointment of this staging. As you all know, Verdi's music for this scene is quite energetic (as opposed to the rest of the opera - Verdi said that he avoided making of the Macbeth score something too pretty, because according to him, this opera is not served by lyricism) - but Ms. Lefton kept her witches rather static, standing on the same place and moving very little. It created a very strange contrast with the music. I can't say I liked it. And they added some girls throwing up in the cauldrons. Not very subtle.

    Now, the singing and acting.

    Thomas Hampson was very strong in his singing, even domineering, which made it a bit difficult for his colleagues to share certain scenes with him. For example, in the third act when Lady Macbeth is learning about what the witches had predicted for the king's future, Ms. Michael whose voice had suffered from the extremely strenuous first and second acts [where Lady Macbeth employs some vocal acrobatics], had a bit of a tough time being heard together with Mr. Hampson's well-projected baritone instrument. Mr. Hampson at times is a rather reserved actor. Here he was not. He was actually very emphatic in his emotions, and portrayed Macbeth's doubts and insecurities very well, as well as his greed and thirst for power. Mr. Hampson did it mostly with his voice - as he should, given the relatively static staging. It was a good performance and he collected many bravi and long applause.

    Image copyright, Dan Rest.

    Ms. Nadja Michael was excellent in her acting. She nailed the role very well, as a controlling, ambitious woman who manipulates her husband, including by using her sex appeal. Ms. Michael was one of the sexiest Lady Macbeths I've ever seen. In this staging she seems very passionate, grabs him and kisses him, jumps on his lap and encircles him with her legs, rolls on the ground with him - always when he is about to falter - which is an interesting point in this production.

    Here is a beautiful picture of her as Salome - a very attractive lady:

    Image copyright San Francisco Sentinel

    I'm less thrilled about her singing. It was good for the most part in the middle and upper ranges, but could sound too steely in the higher notes - not properly strident, but a bit unpleasant. In a sense, it worked out well, because Lady Macbeth is a steely woman. But for me the problem was more in the lower register, when her voice tended to disappear given Mr. Noseda's lively conducting, and her partner's strong voice.

    Promising young tenor Dimitri Pittas, an alumnus of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, disappointed me a bit. I think that his voice is beautiful and well tuned to the right pitches. The problem however is that he doesn't convey a lot of emotion with his voice. He seemed a little bland when compared to Mr. Hampson (of course, a much more seasoned performer, so Mr. Pittas is likely to improve with time).

    Günther Groissböck and Richard Cox were both very good in their comparatively smaller roles. Other supporting roles were good too, and a mention must be made of the spectacular Met chorus, in this chorus-heavy opera.

    Overall, I give to this one an A-. A quite impressive Macbeth with visually striking sets and lights; excellent conducting, orchestra, and chorus; a very vocally good title role singer with a beautiful and sexy woman who acts well as his leading lady (in spite of some singing limitations) and a mostly good supporting cast. I knock down this production to A- instead of A or A+ given some problems with static staging, some lack of emotion in the singing of the third most important character, some vocal problems with the leading soprano. But nothing major. Still a very good production, and a very enjoyable evening, especially given the pleasant interaction with Mr. Hampson backstage and the honor of meeting Ms. Horne.

    This article was originally published in forum thread: Macbeth at the Met + encounter with Thomas Hampson started by Almaviva View original post

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