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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Macbeth at Opera Carolina

    Macbeth, opera in four acts, sung in Italian, with English supertitles
    Music by Giuseppe Verdi
    Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave and Andrea Maffei, adapted from William Shakespeare's Macbeth (1823-30)
    Premiered on March 14, 1847 at the Teatro della Pergola, Florence, Italy
    Revised by the composer for the Théâtre-Lyrique Impérial du Châtelet, Paris, France, 1865

    A new production by Opera Carolina, in Charlotte, NC, USA, attended in person on 11/9/2019

    This excellent production runs for one more performance, on 11/10/19 at 2 PM. For more information, tickets, and Opera Lively exclusive interviews with the two principal singers, click [here]

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    Curtain Calls, Macbeth at Opera Carolina on November 9, 2019, Opera Lively photo

    Maestro James Meena conducts the Opera Carolina Orchestra and Chorus
    Stage Director Ivan Stefanutti
    Scenic/Costume Director Ivan Stefanutti
    Lighting Design Michael Baumgarten
    Projection Design Michael Baumgarten and Ivan Stefanutti
    Wig and Make-up Design Martha Ruskai
    Assistant Diretor Filippo Tadolini


    Main roles

    Macbeth - Opera Lively interviewee Mark Rucker
    Lady Macbeth - Opera Lively interviewee Othalie Graham
    Banquo - Song Zaikuan
    MacDuff - Gianluca Sciarpeletti
    Malcom - Jonathan Kaufman

    Comprimario roles

    Assassin - Robert Harrelson
    Lady-in-waiting - Nancy Unser
    1st Apparition - David Clark
    2nd Apparition - Ashley West-Davis
    3rd Apparition - Margaret Tyler
    Fleance - Bryson Woodey


    This opera by Verdi, finished towards the end of what he called his Galley Years and composed a bit before his huge successes affectionately known as Rig-Trov-Trav (Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, and La Traviata), does occupy a well-established spot in the operatic repertory, being given regularly in opera houses around the world, and enjoying a good number of recordings in audio and video by prestigious singers. Still, I believe that it is a little underestimated. It is not given as often as Verdi's big five, the three mentioned above, plus Aida and Otello. Still, together with Don Carlo, Simon Boccanegra, Falstaff (the latter for the spectacular score), and the old timer Nabbuco, in addition to his just mentioned big five, Macbeth belongs to my personal top ten favorite Verdi operas (and yes, I've seen every single one that Verdi has composed). This is mostly because I find Macbeth to be very theatrical (with its compact and fast-paced action, not to forget the high literary quality of the source material) and extremely musically beautiful especially due to it being very chorus-rich.

    So, I was very pleased when Opera Carolina listed it for the 2019-2020 season. My expectation was heightened by the excellent interview answers provided to Opera Lively by the two principal singers Mark Rucker and Othalie Graham. I was a bit apprehensive when I learned that scheduling conflicts prevented the Charlotte Symphony from playing for Opera Carolina this season (a note in the playbill does indicate that the collaboration between Charlotte's finest orchestra and the city's excellent opera company will resume next season). Still, I thought that under the competent hands of Maestro James Meena, the probably somewhat improvised orchestra would be fine.

    Indeed, from the first notes, I felt reassured. The orchestra did perform beautifully, with smooth transitions and correct dynamic balance between the sections. It supported well the singers without overwhelming them, responded energetically when asked to heat up the volume, and kept good synchronism with the stage. The tempi were all as expected. I did notice a couple of rare glitches in the percussion and violin sections, but that's nitpicking. Overall the orchestra did very well, thanks to the musicians and to Opera Carolina's phenomenal principal conductor.

    I've been attending Opera Carolina's performances for several years, and I'll tell you this: I miss Maestro Meena a lot more when he can't conduct the show due to some sort of scheduling conflict (like in a past season when he was in Italy), than I missed the Charlotte Symphony yesterday. Sure, I'll be happy when they return next season with their deep and resonant sounds, but Maestro Meena can make any orchestra do well. I'm not saying this just because of Opera Lively's ongoing relationship with Meena (who supported us from the beginning of our operation, becoming our first partner), but rather because it is very true: just see what the singers say about him (including in the current interview with Mark Rucker - oh, and talking about that, don't miss Mark's fascinating last answer about how he got into singing as opposed to a football career!). The Charlotte community is blessed with having such a great musician as the General Director and Principal Conductor of the city's opera company.

    So, as far as the pit goes, we were treated to a very good performance, last night. Next, another very positive element of this show was the physical side of the production, which combined two of my favorite devices: simple, non-invasive, minimalist scenery, with beautiful projections. These days, I believe that this is the best way to stage opera: the efficient use of the modern resources brought in by projections, so that the scenery and props don't need to be heavy.

    Before the show started, I was telling my seat companion that I very much enjoy Michael Baumgarten's work. His video projections are always interesting. These ones, also credited to the stage director Ivan Stefanutti, were truly spectacular; probably his best work to date. They had the right balance between not being too literal or too photographic, and being illustrative enough. When it's just filmed imagery, it's cheap and unoriginal; Michael's videos escaped this trap by including more abstract and inventively distorted shapes, but still with enough reality to provide very convincing backdrops. The projections were not only very beautiful, but also provided dramatic enhancement to the various scenes, for example with a huge sinister ghost in Macbeth's mad scene, and terrifying devil-like silhouettes when the king is consulting the witches and the three apparitions, in the beginning of the third act. Another very compelling aspect, is that the projections simulated scenery movements, with the illusion of panels coming from the roof and the sides and locking together to compose the scenes. Well done! Congratulations, Michael and Ivan!

    Lighting was also great. The production was appropriately dark and somber given the plot material, but it did introduce colors in a subtle way: some of the shiny capes were lighted with neon-like shades of blue, purple, and red, creating a beautiful effect. Blocking worked well too, with the movements of the chorus around the stage being smoothly done, especially in the two scenes with the witches. Even the fighting scenes, something that is often poorly done in opera, had good choreography. Costumes and props were another strong side of this production. I'm sure the whole audience loved the clever touch of the glowing lights in place of the witches' eyes - one is reminded of the Jawas in the original Star Wars movie.

    Special kudos go to the Opera Carolina chorus. Wow, they sang so beautifully! I particularly liked the female section of the chorus. They rendered the witches just perfectly, with exquisite low-volume singing that created an eerie effect.

    What about the singers? This was a very strong cast. I thought that Othalie struggled a little bit with pitch control in her first and very difficult aria (it's often challenging to tackle a very loud and dramatic piece before the voice properly warms up), but her second act singing was a thing of beauty, and the sleep-walking scene in the fourth act had some of the best singing of the night (a perfectly rendered Una macchia è qui tuttora!), of the goose-bumping kind, drawing several shouts of "Brava!" from the audience.

    Mark Rucker did extremely well. The seasoned singer knows all the tricks of the trade, and after a four-decade career, he still got it. His Macbeth was very secure and convincing, with gravitas and polished low notes, and a beautiful rendition of Pietà, rispetto, amore!. Both (the aptly named) Song Zaikuan and Jonathan Kaufman (no relation to the similarly named Bavarian tenor, haha!) were very good as Banquo and Malcolm, with beautiful timbre and precise notes.

    The big surprise of the night was the small role of MacDuff. Italian tenor Gianluca Sciarpeletti was superb, probably having delivered the best vocal moment of the night, when singing his one very melodious aria. Unsurprisingly, he was, well, very Italianate. I know that this comparison has been used to death and often improperly, but I must say that my wife made the observation that the tenor's excellent phrasing reminded her of Pavarotti. He got a well-deserved "Bravo!" from me.

    In summary, this is a beautiful and very theatrical physical production, helped by great conducting and accomplished singing. I'm publishing this review one hour and forty minutes before the start of the last performance of the run, but if someone within driving distance happens to bump into this article right now, drop everything and run to Belk Theater to watch this not-to-be-missed show!

    [Opera Carolina's season will continue in January with La Bohème, and in April with the contemporary (revised) piece I Dream]
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); November 10th, 2019 at 05:32 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    Glad to read that you had the good fortune to see a nicely rendered and sung production of Macbeth.

    I agree that this is one of Verdi's most underestimated and under-appreciated operas. It really has everything: great arias, great choruses and, of course, considering its source - great drama. Intendants around the world must not see it as very marketable, or it would be more common on stage. Hence the need to trot out the quasi-baritone Placido Domingo as Macbeth...

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