May 8, 2006

Double toil, double trouble

Vocal highlight of Verdi's stirring Macbeth at Seattle Opera Saturday night was probably Macduff's anguished lament when he finds his family slain by the evil tyrant, a show-stopping tenor aria in this dark, brooding opera. Many-layered staging of 11th century Scottish history by 17th century English bard, set to music by 19th century Italian composer, designed by 21st century LA architect Robert Israel [please, God, save us from smug, didactic architects!] and directed by [uh-oh] Frenchman Bernard Uzan. Such insufferable scolds, those Frenchies. Sometimes, when they're telling us what to eat [foie gras] or what to do [Iraq], they're right on the money; other times [think Jerry Lewis, Bernard Henri-Levy], maybe not. Call Saturday's unfocused scenes and bizarre witches a mixed verdict.

Ronald says Wait, wait.JPG Gordon Hawkins BW.jpg Sunday Now thats better1.JPG
Saturday night: uncertain. Sunday matinee: Gordon Hawkins saves Macbeth. Whew!

By Sunday afternoon, a different story. We walk in right behind Gordon Hawkins, the Gold Cast Macbeth, tall & imposing in street clothes. Me, I sidle up & say, "Gee, looks like you just can't stay away, can you?" Modest & polite, he answers, "Hey, I'm here to support my colleagues." We take our seats, side-by-side in Row N, house lights dim, & settle in for Silver Cast.

Soprano Elena Zelenskaya's Lady Macbeth in fine voice, overshadows baritone Louis Otey; by the end of second act, Otey is literally down for the count. [Official term is "indisposed."] Is there, by any chance, another baritone in the house who knows the role? As if.

Consummate trouper, our erstwhile seatmate returns to the stage and wows the house with a performance surpassing previous evening's triumph. Fair enough, following tradition, one artist falls ill, another steps into the breach. Yet that, my friends, is the reason we go to the theater. Not for the perverse anticipation of NASCAR train-wrecks but for the surprise and vitality of live performance.

In the end, it comes down to the unique privilege of the moment: the drama, the music, the great hall, the singers, the set, scenery, costumes, light, all this is for you and only you, now and only now.

Seattle Opera presents Verdi's Macbeth through May 20th. 206-389-7676

Note: this post also appeared briefly on; it's since been supplanted by their regular opera writer's more traditional review. Other reviews: Seattle Times, Seattle P-I. More from me below.

Was going to draw comparison between Macbeth's murderous plots and current politics. "Blood will have blood," right? Too belabored. Basic difficulty: Macbeth plagued by self-awareness; Lady Macbeth simply too self-absorbed. No such signs among today's ruling class-action defendant, Cheynsfeld & Co. ["The road to power is paved with evil deeds."] Simply can't imagine Lady Laura complaining about una macchia ["Out, damned spot!"] unless it's a botched espresso macchiato at Starbucks. Oh, sure, we can find a few witch-like Foxes: Coulter & friends; there's even a role for Condi ["rhymes with witch"] as an alternate-cast Lady Macbeth ["The ultimate pleasure is power."] But the evil Scotsman himself is too plagued with doubt to morph into a clueless, dimwitted modern MacGeorge, no matter how hard we might wish it. On the other hand, one could imagine a whole Ring cycle about Prince KerriGore and a supporting trio of furies: Lady Hilary, Lady Tipper and Lady Theresa. But that's another post.

Posted by Ronald Holden at May 8, 2006 12:01 AM