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Getting at the heart of Macbeth

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The Minnesota Opera's performance of Macbeth

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Can a man's grasp for power be too ambitious? Raphel Holinshed regarded Macbeth’s rise to king as another in the long line of bloody Scottish ascensions. William Shakespeare used Macbeth’s murders to examine the corrupting power of ambition and the restoration of the natural order. GiuseppeVerdi appropriated the Bard’s creation as the focal point for all the supernatural hurly-burly in his “genre fantastico” operatic version.

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All three of these facets shone brilliantly in the Minnesota Opera’s opening night performance at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts on January 25, 2014. While Verdi’s opera is not strictly historical, Holinshed would have appreciated choral director Rob Ainsley’s choral witches embellishing Macbeth’s ruthlessness and faith in the supernatural. Shakespeare would have enjoyed Projection Designer Sean Nieuwenhuis and Lighting Designer Jason Hand’s pyrotechnics that highlighted Macbeth’s self-absorption and vacillation. And Verdi would have lauded conductor Michael Christie’s brisk handling of Verdi’s score and the orchestra’s ethereal treatment of his music.

None of these factors would be effective, however, without the stellar performances of the leads. Greer Grimsley was horrifyingly relentless yet sympathetic in demonstrating the over-reaching ambitions of the opportunistic Macbeth. Grimsley’s aria in the third act where Macbeth rouses his flagging spirit to commit additional mayhem despite the witches’ warnings was a show stopper. And Brenda Harris proved an equally electric singing and acting presence, particularly during her aria as the guilt-ridden Lady Macbeth who never can wash the blood off her hands even in sleep.

Special mention also must go to Alfred Walker as Banquo, Harold Meers as Macduff, John Robert Lindsey as Malcolm, and Shannon Prickett as Lady Macbeth’s Lady in Waiting for their dynamic and sonorous performances in supporting roles. And stage director Joel Ivany should be congratulated for the vocal quality and emotional intensity these singers and the rest of the cast gave to their performances, particularly in the opera’s order-affirming final chorus.

The Bard has not always fared well in other operatic performances of his works, such as the Opera’s recent performance of “Hamlet.” Nor are all of Verdi’s works readily accessible to modern sensibilities as evidenced in its production of “Nabucco.” But when the stars are aligned and its sources are in sync as they were Saturday night, Verdi’s Macbeth is simply galvanizing and magical.

Four performances remain:

  • Tuesday, January 28, 2014
  • Thursday, January 29, 2014
  • Saturday, February 1, 2014
  • Sunday, February 2, 2014.

Enjoy one, if you can.

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