Macbeth Murder Mystery

Nights at the Opera: Feb. 2010

“Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble” is a popular misquote from Macbeth.   As a child I disliked Macbeth.  In fact I disliked him so much that I worked hard enough to skip a year in school so that I could do Hamlet in the final year instead of Macbeth.  In the last quarter of 2009 there were no less than three Macbeth operas on the go, two in Vienna and one in Gabarone, Botswana.  Now, not many people know that, or that singing Lady Macbeth is what 26 year old Tsherolo Segokgo, Angela Denoke and Erika Sunnegaerdh have in common.

The reason I disliked Macbeth so much is partly explained by his treacherous murder of his King, Duncan, who was fighting both the invading Irish and Macdonald, the Highland rebel assisting them at the time.  He was killed by Macbeth, which may have been a factor in forming my dislike.

Angela Denoke was Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Her performance was, as it always is, intensely gripping and wonderful. For Verdi’s Macbeth there is often the expectation of Lady Macbeth as a fairly hefty virago, but it ain’t necessarily so. Erika Sunnegaerdh  presented a lovely-voiced, young Lady Macbeth as she made her debut at the Staatsoper on Dec. 7.

This and some subsequent performances were marred by totally unacceptable boohing, not only at the end but during the performance as well. Paris- trained Tsherolo Segokgo was Lady Macbeth in “The Okavango Macbeth” by Scottish writer Alexander McCall Smith with music by Tom Cunningham, which had its premiere in a garage outside Gabarone, Botswana.  The behaviour of a troupe of baboons in the Okavango, and of one female in particular, who was urging her mate to kill the leader, reminded McCall Smith of Macbeth and hence an opera about a troupe of baboons.  Perhaps it was some of the troupe which came to disrupt Verdi’s Lady Macbeth in Vienna?

Incidentally, the correct quote from   is “Double, double, toil and trouble.”  Fortunately, the generic definitions of musical theatre are not cast in stone.  When we see the name Ferruccio Furlanetto we tend to think of stentorian Verdi or great Russian roles. Neither of these? Then perhaps Masters’ golf courses? Still no!   Emile de Becque and South Pacific are unlikely first guesses, but there he was alongside Marjana Lipovshek as Bloody Mary in the enormously well-received South Pacific, led by Sandra Pires in the Volksoper in mid- January.  More of that please.

In the Staatsoper the final curtain was drawn on Ponelle’s great production of “Le Nozze di Figaro” after its 250th performance on Jan. 23.  Adam Fisher conducted the great cast in a fitting farewell.

Earlier Diana Damrau and Ramon Vargas paired memorably in Massenet’s Manon. There is no way that that Manon had ever any intention of going to the convent to which her parents were sending her!! Great performances. There are two world Premieres to be enjoyed in February (see Events p.25) in Theater an der Wien (19 Feb) and Staatsoper (Feb 28). The Volksoper also has a Premiere. This is of the Musical “Die Blume von Hawaii” on Feb 7.  So a big night out in all three houses. I commented earlier in the year on the adventurous programme adopted by the Intendant, Roland Geyer, and his team in Theatre an der Wien. It has been an outstanding success and they have done it again.  Perhaps as a prelude to the world premiere of Die Besessen, the world’s newest opera on Feb 19, one of the oldest operas, L’Incoronazione di Poppea (who married the Roman violinist, Nero),was presented at the end of January. It was written by the putative father of opera, Claudio Monteverdi as recently as 1642.

The current production is fantastic. It is the only performance I have ever seen beginning with the huge stage curtains opening from the top down – a sort of zoomf-thump as it hits the floor, or in which there has been on stage bath-taking by different characters in three successive scenes.

The décor consists of acres and acres of red curtains, multifunctional red curtains which serve as gigantic trains (bridal sense) and hand towels as the moment requires. The action is as interactive as it could be with characters wandering hither and thither through the auditorium some of them carelessly brandishing pistols and pointing them in every direction.

However the music and singing is the thing.  The orchestra needed a five minute introduction of the instruments, many of which were reminiscent of Heath Robinson gadgets. If you like countertenors and men in female roles and vice versa this is for you.  Countertenors are what became of castrati after the musical equivalent of the abolition of capital punishment.  In the Staatsoper the legion of Jose Cura fans will troop to Tosca and the double bill of Cavalleria Rusticana with I Pagliacci. The opera Ball is on Feb. 11 and the happiest show in town “The Magic Flute for Children” is on the following day.  Watch out for the Magic Tree.

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