Verdi’s Macbeth in Marseille
Macbeth is so familiar to British audiences that the piece tends to be over-interpreted, whether in the theatre or the opera house. At the Opera de Marseille, director Frédéric Bélier Garcia resisted such a temptation, focussing on the central theme, that a persistent desire to become someone or something different from that which one is leads to disaster. A simple but important message which, put across effectively, as it was here, generates considerable dramatic power. The sets (designer Jacques Gabel) were minimal but framed the action well; the costumes (Catherine and Sarah Leterrier) appropriately drab and not period-specific. The witches and sundry courtiers engaged admirably as a Greek-style chorus, leading the protagonists towards their fate with vigorous stage movements and lively musical commentaries.
Macbeth and his consort were well characterised: he, vacillating between headstrong ambitions and craven pusillanimity; she combining seductive cajoling with dismissive contempt for him. And both parts were extremely well sung. The experienced Slovak singer Dalibor Jenis deployed his robust baritone to good effect, modulating the timbre to reflect his increasing desperation. As Lady Macbeth, Anastasia Bartoli was little short of sensational. Uninhibited in full voice, her power-seeking declamations reached every corner of the auditorium, contrasting with her sinuous softer tones attempting to induce her husband to decisive action (while grasping the phallic-like pillar of their palace). And there was a splendid supporting cast. The liquid bass of the Banquo Nicolas Courjal rolled out first in support of Macbeth’s perverse aims; subsequently, in dismal recognition of becoming an addition to the list of victims. Both tenors, Jérémy Duffau as Macduff and Néstor Galván as Malcolm, impressed with steely vocal contributions. And, during the sleep-walking scene, even the Doctor, Jean-Marie Delpas, and Lady Macbeth’s maid, Laurence Janot, made more of their parts than is usual with the comprimarii to whom they are customarily assigned.
Underpinning all the musical qualities of the performance was the outstanding conducting of Paolo Arrivabeni. While injecting exciting forward thrust into the exciting passages depicting ambition and passion, he was also adept at engaging attention to Verdi’s crisp rhythmic patterns, for more subtle purposes, as well as creating dramatic tension with lingering, but not exaggerated, rubato.
All-round, a highly successful Macbeth, one of the best I have experienced.