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If memory serves correctly, Verdi wrote just two comedies. But memory may be playing tricks, for here is a third. Glyndebourne generates more amusement from Macbeth than it often does for a genuine opera buffa – and this time the laughs have nothing to do with alcohol intake during the dinner interval.
Richard Jones’s staging, designed by Ultz, lit by Wolfgang Goebbel and choreographed by Linda Dobell, is so superficially entertaining that you start to wonder who is having the biggest laugh. It could be Jones himself – at the expense of Glyndebourne’s famously sybaritic audience. From the very first scene, when three generations of emasculating women jump out of caravans and indulge in hieratic routines, we get the message: Macbeth can’t be taken seriously. So why do it? The result is a litany of Jones’s production tics and 1950s-1960s hang-ups. Duncan is a geriatric figure of fun, Banquo’s ghost a cardboard box. Macbeth behaves like a faceless Jock, while his axe-wielding wife sleepwalks in a utility room. Their domain, a brick box with a garden shed, boasts more kilts than the Edinburgh Tattoo.
In this satirical pantomime everything is a caricature, right down to the witches’ cauldron – a gas cooker out of which skeletons emerge for a riotous dance. At least we get to hear the 1865 ballet music. It is less easy to justify the inclusion of Macbeth’s 1847 death aria, which Verdi later excised.
The performance is brilliantly executed, above all by the London Philharmonic under Vladimir Jurowski. The ensembles make up in dynamism what they miss in grandezza and, by discouraging applause, Jurowski engenders a welcome connectedness. That sense of creative personality is dissipated by a cast that is forced to act like cardboard cut-outs.
Sylvie Valayre’s Lady Macbeth, an air hostess masquerading as royalty in tartan trimmings, no longer has the voice to impose herself but is enough of a trouper to play along. Andrzej Dobber’s Macbeth only comes alive in his Act 4 aria of despair. The rest of the cast, including Stanislav Shvets’s Banquo and Peter Auty’s Macduff, are reduced to cyphers. Verdi’s opera should be a raw, riveting experience. It deserves more than titters and cheap tricks. Tel 1273 813813