The Royal Opera House has been sluggish and tentative in its emergence from pandemic sleep. It’s so nervous about getting bums back on seats that it’s giving 13 performances of its most dependable banker – Richard Eyre’s evergreen production of La traviata – and even that isn’t filling the auditorium. This is a worrying portent for the operatic future.
Yet everything in this season’s ROH repertoire has been good: a boldly stylised new Jenufa, a new Rigoletto gloriously acted and sung, and now a fine revival of Phyllida Lloyd’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth. This opera has a darkly austere magnificence, and so does Lloyd’s production. The plot unfolds in a chiaroscuro world under an angrily stormy sky. Anthony Ward’s designs and Paul Constable’s lighting conspire to create effects reminiscent of Japanese kabuki, and the slaying of the protagonist is closely modelled on the climactic scene of Kurosawa’s great film of Shakespeare’s play, Throne of Blood (1957).
Verdi used the play to amplify the aspirations of the Risorgimento, the 19th-century movement for the unification of Italy, which was picking up speed as the opera was being composed. Meanwhile, there are moments in this ROH production when one senses the revival director Daniel Dooner pulling us all into the 21st-century present: the courtiers in Macbeth’s palace morph into famished migrants looking exactly like those on our screens from the Belarus-Polish border. The whole evening feels political.
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