Monday, February 12, 2007


It's turned out to be quite an operatic weekend.

Saturday was spent listening to Gluck's Iphigenie and Tauride (in a lovely Gardiner conducted performance) - which turned out to be a sweetly rewarding experience, despite the terrible travesty of its plot. And then today I attended an intimate little performance of Verdi's Macbeth by the Center City Opera of Philadelphia.

It was an intriguing performance - making up in charm what it lacked in power. I suppose the best term for it would be an opera reading. It was held in this smallish studio in the basement of the Kimmel Center, meaning a piano instead of an orchestra, and a lot of fairly quaint stage directions, with the singers entering from behind the audience and walking down the aisles, singing. The whole reminded me, in a way, of the Ramlila performances I attended as a child. One missed Verdi's orchestration, of course (with only a piano he begins to sound suspiciously like Puccini), and it was a little bizarre to see people reading from the score while they sang, but the singing was generally good - I thought Banquo (Jorge Oscasio) and Macduff (Daniel Holmes) in particular were excellent, as were the Witches, who had a nice Mother, Maiden, Crone thing going on; and Lady Macbeth (Lori Lind) did an admirable job despite having a bad case of the sniffles. Overall it was about as pleasant a way of spending a Sunday afternoon as I can think of.

The problem I have with opera adaptations of Shakespeare is that I always end up missing the words [1]. The trouble is that Shakespeare himself is so fundamentally operatic that even Verdi's histrionics seem like a let down. Take the scene where Lady Macbeth learns that Duncan is coming to visit. Verdi gives her a stunning aria here, but no soprano, however fierce, is ever going to be able to match the sheer bloody-mindedness and exquisite frenzy of:

The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature's mischief! Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry 'Hold, hold!'
Oooh! Now I want to go read all of Macbeth again.

Meanwhile, tomorrow, to round out the trend, Scott Joplin's Treemonisha. Who knew Joplin wrote opera?

[1] Actually, I have the same problem with ballet versions of Shakespeare. In Midsummer Night's Dream, in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's poetry outdoes all dance.


bess said...

Have you caught any of The Met's operas that have been broadcasted into a movie theater near you? The next one is Tchaik's Eugene Onegin with Renee Fleming and the delicious Dmitri Hvorostovsky on Feb. 24. Would love to hear your review of that one!

Szerelem said...

The trouble is that Shakespeare himself is so fundamentally operatic that even Verdi's histrionics seem like a let down.
How true! I haven't seen many operatic performances of Shakespeare, some of which have been great, but I most definitely prefer watching Shakespeare performed as a play.
That said watching good adaptations of Shakespeare is such joy. The number of ways in which the same play can be interpreted, the shades a good actor can bring out in his charectors - all these are just testimony to the richness of his work, no?

Falstaff said...

bess: No, I haven't. The movie theater near me isn't near enough, frankly.

szerelem: Agree. Oh, and hot tip - don't forget to check out Poi-tre day after tomorrow.

Ed said...

Treemonisha was Joplin's second opera. His first was A Guest of Honor, composed and performed in 1903. It was about Booker T. Washington's dinner in the White House with President Roosevelt in 1901. Joplin had applied for a copyright but failed to send the score to LC to complete the copyright. The score was lost when, after the theft of box office receipts, Joplin failed to pay the company's boarding house bill and the opera was confiscated.