Note: This article is based on the October 13th performance of “Macbeth” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, CA, which was also simulcast live to 10,000 people on a large screen at the Santa Monica Pier. Additionally, in the two double-cast roles, Banquo and Macduff, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo plays the first (taking over from Roberto Tagliavini) and Joshua Guerrero portrays the second character (replacing Arturo Chacón-Cruz).
As part of the prestigious L.A. Opera series, Giuseppe Verdi’s operatic adaptation (including libretto by Francesco Maria Piave and Andrea Maffei) of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” graced the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion between September 17th and October 16th. Living legend Plácido Domingo, who recently signed on to be the General Director of the L.A. Opera through the 2021-22 season, reprised the title character, who is both a villain and victim of his own fate. It is a fortuitous full circle of sorts for the 14-time Grammy Award winner, and performer of over 3,600 shows, who made his L.A. Opera conducting debut in 1987, also for “Macbeth.”
By Domingo’s own admission, playing Macbeth is a welcomed result of having expanded his versatility in the last six years, whereby he has taken on baritone roles as a sweet contrast to his predominantly tenor-rich career. The almost 76-year-old is as spirited and effortlessly talented as ever, moving around with an impressive agility, never weighed down by his heavy royal garb, or the unruly sword in his hand. His poignantly powerful arias continue to stir the very depths of the soul, reminding us of feelings we didn’t know we could muster within ourselves.
Furthermore, the James Conlon-conducted, Darko Tresnjak-directed rendition of “Macbeth” is truest to Verdi’s vision with a fantastically foreboding set, vivid colors, and detailed costumes, thanks to Tresnjak, Lighting Designer Matthew Richards, and Costume Designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb, respectively. The story follows the unfolding of events that impact Macbeth and Banquo, Scottish Generals under King Duncan of Scotland; Macbeth’s wife, Lady Macbeth; the son of King Duncan, Malcolm; Scottish nobleman and avenging hero, Macduff; and, the diabolically prescient witches who cast a dark shadow over the proceedings.
Driving the plot is the odious odyssey of Macbeth, who is unduly obsessed with the witches’ oracle of his impending rule, which compels him to conspire with Lady Macbeth (Ekaterina Semenchuk) to murder King Duncan in his sleep, as well as eradicate and consequently preempt the witches’ other prophecy – that Banquo (Ildebrando D’Arcangelo) would reign unceasingly following Macbeth. Subsequently, the fear and guilt-ridden hallucinogenic paranoia stemming from Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s thirst for power becomes their undoing when Macduff (Joshua Guerrero) vanquishes the former and an apparent suicide ends the latter, as Malcolm (Josh Wheeker) leads the oppressed Scottish town of Birnham Wood to victory, becoming the new beneficent king.
Certainly, over the course of the opera, Domingo never misses a cue, shining brilliantly as the mentally frayed king, who is bedeviled by the sins of his past. In one particular scene, when Domingo (as Macbeth) is besieged by the interminably antagonizing apparition of Banquo, whom he had killed, the angst and apprehension manifest impeccably in Domingo’s expressions, who, even while slumped over, demonstrates his control over the stage. Toward the end, when Domingo’s character laments that he’ll never find peace in old age, or, when in his final breath he curses his vile lust for the crown, we feel not just disgust for his folly, but sympathy for having been ostensibly defeated by his own conscience.
As Domingo’s stage counterpart, Semenchuk is stellar in her sinisterness, and more maleficent than Angelina Jolie, as the nefarious Lady Macbeth. Her intimidating presence is punctuated by her willful wantonness and determination to protect and perpetuate the deeds of her husband; in fact, she is the brains behind Macbeth, who is not at a loss for any intelligence himself. In addition, Semenchuk’s demanding soprano vocals are carried out seemingly with the greatest of ease, but with maximum effect, as each of her operatic arrows captivates and entrances. Even with her character ravaged by the thought of Macbeth losing his power, Semenchuk demonstrates Lady Macbeth’s vulnerability, just as she does her persona’s imperviousness, when she is seen by the Doctor (Theo Hoffman) and Lady-In-Waiting (Summer Hassan) sleepwalking and fruitlessly rubbing her hands as if trying to wash away her transgressions.
The supporting cast is responsible for some of the opera’s most awe-inspiring moments, especially when they work collaboratively, pooling their vocal talents together, to create the most resounding of choral splendor, for which Choral Director Grant Gershon deserves much credit for. The tailed witches, too, who skulk around maniacally, add an appropriate horror to the narrative. Moreover, Joshua Guerrero as Macduff proves to be a heroic tenor with stupendous volume and intensity to his voice; and, Josh Wheeker, who portrays Malcolm, provides a wholesomeness and satisfying tonality to his bellowed words.
As exceptional as the entire cast is, this run of “Macbeth” will be remembered for another historic collaboration between Conductor and L.A. Opera Music Director James Conlon, and Plácido Domingo, who is as proficient as ever since overcoming cancer in 2010, popularizing the art of opera just as much as his beloved friend Luciano Pavarotti did.
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