Anna Netrebko, now a dramatic soprano, shines in the Met’s dark and murky ‘Macbeth’

Ever since the September 24 opening of the Met’s current production of
Verdi’s Macbeth, critics have been pretty much unanimous in their
acclaim for Anna Netrebko’s portrayal of the iconic Lady Macbeth. The praise
is well deserved, all the more so considering the transformation of vocal
timbre she had to undergo to prepare for this role. By the time of Saturday’s
Live in HD simulcast, about the only question remaining was how the Russian
superstar would withstand the intense scrutiny of the close-up camerawork.

Netrebko, once a lyric soprano embracing bel canto roles, has
slowly been shedding her past and adding weight both to body and voice. And
while the change has been gradual, it’s clear from this production that the
diva has now reinvented herself as a dramatic soprano. Judging from the quality
of singing and level of stamina Saturday, I’d say this new voice is here to

“Behind every great man there stands a great woman,” the saying goes,
and those familiar with this Shakespeare tragedy are not likely to argue the
point. But Netrebko’s Lady Macbeth stands much the taller throughout this
reprise of Adrian Noble’s (still-potent) 2007 production — hovering over
the hapless Macbeth (éeljko Lu?i?) a good deal of the time, as he cowers at
her feet like a trained dog awaiting the next command.

In the end, however, it’s Netrebko’s ferocious display of vocal power,
and not the warped power relationship, that tells the story in this

Whatever your opinion as to the relative merits of Peter Gelb’s simulcasts
(my circle of friends are pretty much evenly divided), most will agree that
viewers of the broadcasts get to see certain aspects of the production not
readily available to audiences at the opera house.

Case in point: In Saturday ‘s simulcast, Live in HD Director Gary
Halvorson projected close-ups of Netrebko’s eyes, affording viewers a window
into her soul. (I saw a fanatical lust for power.) Halvorson projected
close-ups of her facial expressions and seductive body movements, offering a
revealing view of the femme fatale spinning a deadly web from which
there will be no escape. Mostly, though, Halvorson projected close-ups of
Netrebko’s cleavage — shot from every possible angle and broadcast across
some 2,000 theater screens around the globe. Viewers from 67 countries now know
what it means to be in top form in America. (No word yet on whether
Gelb plans to simulcastAnna Nicole.)

Though largely gratuitous, this alternate view of Netrebko didn’t bother
me as much as the cropping of the chorus scenes, which rendered it difficult to
get a visual sense of the large number of singers involved. It’s also
maddening to be forced to look only where the camera director allows you to
look. We can see the singers in glorious detail, but are not privy to the looks
and reactions of characters whom the singers are addressing. It’s as if
we’re sitting in the front row of the opera house strapped in a neck brace.

In the title role, éeljko Lu?i? forges a daring but complex character who
wildly chases his ambitions but ultimately succumbs to his fears. The uxorious
husband follows his wife’s bidding without question, yet appears incapable of
enjoying the sexual favors she offers as bait to lure him into action. When he
does reach the top, Macbeth can experience neither physical pleasure nor
emotional satisfaction afforded by this absolute power. Lu?i?’s “mad”
scene at the banquet, where he begins to mentally unravel in front of his
obsequious guests, was a dramatic tour de force.

Though an excellent actor, Lu?i? fell far short of the other principal
singers. His phrases were generally choppy, and his voice, which in all but the
loudest sections came across as hoarse, sounded raspy and unfocused. By his
final aria, Piet‡, rispetto, amore, Lu?i? sounded clearly fatigued,
and pitch began to wobble.

It’s always a pleasure to see and hear the incomparable bass RenÈ Pape
(Banquo), even if his character does get killed off early in the second act.
(Pape returns, in a bloody white shirt, as a ghost — but alas, no more

Banquo, who along with Macbeth served as King Duncan’s generals before the
latter murdered the monarch, enters the forest with his young son and quickly
realizes that the band of thugs in the forest (led by Richard Bernstein) have
other plans for the pair. Pape delivers his great aria Come dal ciel
in a commanding bass, and with deep feeling.

Those looking for a tenor aria in this opera had to wait until the fourth
act for Macduff to step into the spotlight. But Joseph Calleja’s poignant
Ah, la paterna mano was well worth the wait. Lamenting the loss of his
character’s wife and children at the hands of Macbeth, Calleja’s moving
delivery — sung with a combination of tenderness and agony — captured the

Of course, the lion’s share of vocal accolades belong to Netrebko. She was
strong in voice from her opening cavatina (Vieni t’affretta ) and
the concluding cabaletta (Or tutti, sorgete), with a firm upper
register that never wavered in pitch or intensity. She navigated the wide
intervals in the cheerful Brindisi (drinking song) Si colmi il calice di
with seemingly little effort, toasting her guests gleefully while
savoring the murder of Banquo only moments earlier.

Netrebko’s facial expression in the opera’s signature sleepwalking
scene, where Lady Macbeth tries in vain to wash the imaginary blood off her
hands, told the story better perhaps than Francesco Maria Piave’s libretto.

Set director Mark Thompson captured the dark and murky underpinnings of the
drama through barren staging that provided only hints of the interior of the

The forest scene in Act Four, populated with soldiers and refugees, was far
more tangible, including a frozen military jeep with frosted windows and a
machine gun mounted on the seat. The falling snowflakes made me reach for my
coat. Thompson, also the costume director, outfitted the witches in disheveled
1940s-vintage garb that gave them the appearance of “bag ladies.” Concealed
in the women’s handbags were flashlights used in clever fashion to illuminate
their faces against the dark backdrop of the stage.

It’s growing increasingly difficult to take shortcuts with the props
during simulcasts. Snowflakes falling in the cold and depressing forest had
four sides, not six — as was abundantly clear during the close-ups of
Calleja, who sang his touching aria sporting three rogue flakes stuck to his
hair, each in the shape of a square.

From the foreboding opening Preludio, led by a marvelous brass
section punctuated by trombones and bass trombone, the Met Orchestra under
Fabio Luisi captured all the right moods at all the right places. Luisi’s
invigorating Allegro Brilliante at the close of Act 1 Scene 1 was a
real foot-tapper, though taken considerably faster than Verdi’s indicated
tempo of half-note = 144 (my metronome clocked the maestro at an astounding
164, which all but set off the smoke detectors in my theater).

Don Palumbo’s men’s and women’s choruses were in good form throughout
the production, particularly the chorus of witches. The patriotic Patria
, where the oppressed masses are lamenting the loss of their
homeland, was especially lovely — though the hushed pianissimos appeared
amplified out of proportion in the simulcast.

The jury may still be out as to where best to experience the Metropolitan
Opera. But for the company’s unforgettable production of Macbeth, at
least, there wasn’t a bad seat in the house anywhere in the world.

David Abrams
CNY CafÈ Momus

This review first appeared at CNY CafÈ Momus. It is reprinted with the permission of the author.

image_description=Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth and éeljko Lu?i? in the title role of Verdi’s Macbeth [Photo by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera]
product_title=Anna Netrebko, now a dramatic soprano, shines in the Met’s dark and murky ‘Macbeth’
product_by=A review by David Abrams
product_id=Above: Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth and éeljko Lu?i? in the title role of Verdi’s Macbeth [Photo by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera]