Verdi: Macbeth; Canadian Opera Company, COC Orchestra, Speranza Scappucci conductor. April 28, 30, May 6, 12, 14, 17 & 20, 2023, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Tickets here.
The Canadian Opera Company’s spring season kicked off in fine fashion on April 28 with Verdi’s Macbeth, in a new co-production in partnership with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, directed by the well-known Scottish stage director Sir David McVicar. He was last in Toronto in 2019, overseeing a terrific production of Rusalka starring soprano Sondra Radvanovsky.
The current Macbeth was to be a reunion of McVicar and Radvanovsky, but sadly it was not to be. When she withdrew from singing Lady Macbeth, there were a lot of disappointed fans. Given that dramatic sopranos capable of doing justice to this role don’t grow on trees, the COC is lucky to have engaged two fine replacements in Bulgarian Alexandrina Pendatchanska and Ukrainian Liudmyla Monastyrska. The rest of the cast remain unchanged.
One of Verdi’s early successes, Macbeth (1847), much like his two other Shakespearean adaptations of Otello and Falstaff, features a vocally and dramatically demanding central character. The COC hit the jackpot with American baritone Quinn Kelsey, who had sung with the COC to acclaim in the past, including a memorable Sancho Panza in Don Quichotte. His Macbeth on opening night was outstanding, delighting the large audience with his huge, warm Verdi baritone and searing dramatic power, even more amazing given it was his role debut.
He was paired with Alexandrina Pendatchanska as the evil Lady Macbeth. The Bulgarian soprano returns to the COC after a 2010 Queen Elisabeth in Maria Stuarda. A dramatic coloratura who has already enjoyed an extraordinary 30-year career, the Pendatchanska voice is now uneven in its range. The top notes are still impressive, but the middle register sounds covered and there is a prominent vibrato. That said, she remains a committed actress and her Lady Macbeth was dramatically riveting.
The rest of the cast was outstanding, led by Canadian tenor Matthew Cairns as Macduff. A graduate of the COC Ensemble Studio and a winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions, he sang with big, ringing tone, receiving a huge applause after a showstopping “Ah, la paterna mano.” Also wonderful was the Banquo of Turkish bass Onay Köse, making a welcome return to the COC, singing impressively, with plenty of gravitas. The supporting roles were all ably taken, mostly by current or former Ensemble Studio members.
The McVicar production is rather middle-of-the-road, very beautiful and atmospheric, but decidedly not 11th century as Shakespeare intended. There wasn’t much to suggest that it’s set in Scotland, except for Macduff’s tartan costume. What we do have is a visually haunting show, with gorgeous painted backdrop in Act 4 and exceptionally effective lighting — I give it a 10 on the spook-meter. This is a chorus-heavy show, and the COC chorus, here larger than usual at 52, were fully up to the task. The female chorus, the Witches, were given very intricate choreography, and everything was executed flawlessly.
Last but not least, kudos to the COC Orchestra under the inspired leadership of visiting Maestra Speranza Scappucci. I will never forget that time when she made her COC debut in Il Barbiere, the audience stopped the show with such vociferous applause after the overture that the orchestra actually had to stand to acknowledge the ovation — first and last time to my knowledge. The sound coming out from the pit this time around was equally thrilling, perhaps a smidgeon too loud at times, but then I was seated in the second row.
All in all, a fantastic show and not to be missed. I hope to go back to hear the alternate Lady Macbeth, Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska, who is making such a splash at the Met these days. Stay tuned!
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