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Crowd-flow at Olavinlinna Castle is a problem. The cause is obvious: the 15th-century Finnish fortification still works. To get in, you have to cross the drawbridge. And not more than four abreast can pass the stone portal. Perfect for medieval defence, stressful for 21st-century crowds.
Yet somehow it works. And what better opera to watch there, once squeezed through the crush, than Verdi’s Macbeth? This 1991 Ralf Langbacka production is a Savonlinna classic, and the sight of knights in full regalia bashing one another up with swords on the ancient steps in the battle scene evokes a delicious sense of time warp.
Anneli Qveflander’s clumsy sets are dominated by a gigantic crown, which most of the time hangs at just the right height to obscure half the surtitles. The symbolism is unsubtle. Never mind. What the staging lacks in modernity it makes up for with charm and earnest intensity.
The evening’s greatest assets are undoubtedly musical, dominated by the vast personality of national legend Leif Segerstam on the podium. Segerstam, equally well-known as a composer with a vast symphonic output, conducts with a relaxed sense of grand gesture, a flair for drama, evident relish and all the black humour that is missing from the staging. What comes out is consummately musical, thrillingly garish and madly entertaining.
Juha Uusitalo is a titan of a Macbeth, with a huge yet cultivated sound and truck-loads of charisma. Everything he does confirms his growing international status; here is another Finnish baritone set to conquer the opera world. Jaakko Ryhänen’s Banquo makes a formidable opponent, older and wiser, crackling with strength. Cynthia Makris is a nasty Lady Macbeth, her impressive coloratura coupled with a suitably cutting edge. The witches are chaotically athletic, for once completely upstaged by the men’s chorus. As assassins, banquet guests, soldiers or citizens, these men are full-throated and precise, with a detail of expression that would be the envy of any choir.
Finns sing well, and the struggle to breach the castle ramparts has yet again proved worthwhile. Tel +358 600 1 4884
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