Macbeth, Royal Opera House, London, review: Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth is born to sing the role

Phyllida Lloyd’s 2002 production of Verdi’s ‘Macbeth’, conducted by Antonio Pappano, has grown magnificently into its skin

Zeljko Lucic as Macbeth and Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth at the ROH
Zeljko Lucic as Macbeth and Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth at the ROH

After two of the most abysmal new productions I have ever seen – From the House of the Dead at Covent Garden, and La traviata at the London Coliseum – a revival of Phyllida Lloyd’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth comes to remind us that critical standards are still intermittently in operation. Now in its third revival, this version has grown magnificently into its skin, with Anthony Ward’s darkly austere designs and Paule Constable’s atmospheric lighting creating a world which, though not placeable beyond a vague suggestion of medieval Persia, where kings ride on gold-caparisoned horses, compels total belief.

What most impresses is the visual economy of this production, with a few key images resonating with ever-increasing power. The imaginary dagger becomes a jagged sliver of light coming through a half-open door; the golden palanquin in which the king makes his appearance finds echoes in the gilded cage of Macbeth’s mind, in the crown by which Lady Macbeth is mesmerised, and in the sacrificial enclosure in which Macbeth meets his end. The movement-direction is simple but vividly effective; the prophecies, dreams, hallucinations, and incursions of the supernatural are woven into a narrative which takes place as much in the minds of its two doomed protagonists as in naturalistic reality.

And it’s all superbly performed. It was of course a bonus to have Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth, but this Russian soprano now seems born to sing the role. Proud, pitiless, and ruthless, she casually washes her hands at a standpipe after smearing the guards with incriminating blood when her vacillating husband (Zeljko Lucic) returns, shattered, from committing the first murder. Her timbre has the hard brilliance of polished steel, but in her sleepwalking scene it takes on a grave and rueful beauty. Lucic, alternating between bravado and craven terror, makes a subtle foil; in his desperate final aria his singing has a weary nobility. Ildebrando D’Arcangelo’s Banquo is exquisitely sung, while the Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazov turns the bereaved Macduff’s lament into a marvel of bel canto grace.

And that’s only the principals: the supporting cast, the chorus, and the orchestra under Antonio Pappano’s direction all play a blinder. The witches – with Verdi turning Shakespeare’s trio into a full chorus – become a malign controlling force; the off-stage choruses are finely judged, and the choral prayer for national revival (for medieval Scotland read 19th-century Italy) ascends sweetly to the heavens.

Until 10 April (roh.org.uk)

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in