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Macbeth review at Hackney Empire, London – ‘a handsome, well-sung production’

Madeleine Pierard and Grant Doyle in English Touring Opera's Macbeth. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
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English Touring Opera, which takes a flexible view on language, presents Verdi’s Macbeth in Andrew Porter’s English version. Since surtitles are also in place, Italian might have made a better choice.

Scraps of Shakespeare jostle with workaday locutions. The spectre of Gilbert and Sullivan unavoidably looms whenever the assembled witches, clad in aqua-green habits, gesture in unison as they sing their rum-ti-tum lines. The heart-rending chorus of refugees is staged with insight and sensitivity, but the opening words, “Wretched country”, carry false resonances.

Updated and set primarily in a monumental concrete bunker, James Dacre’s production does not match the daring of Verdi’s jagged, compelling score. It vacillates between stylisation and realism, only going for the jugular when Macduff finally cuts Macbeth’s throat.

Perversely, Lady Macbeth is placed in a recessed gallery for her crucial aria La Luce Langue. Madeleine Pierard handles this killer role – especially the coloratura – with strength, assurance and style, but her distinctive, close-grained voice draws the listener in rather than leaping across the space.

Tall and glamorous, she dominates the ambiguous, even detached relationship with Grant Doyle’s grey-suited, bearded Macbeth. He carries the role with a vibrant, forthright tone and, retaining an air of humanity, fills his final aria with regret rather than self-pity. Andrew Slater makes a powerful, reflective Banquo, Amar Muchhala’s lyrical Macduff is notable for both warmth and substance, and David Lynn’s fearless singing brings Malcolm to the fore.

Conductor Gerry Cornelius really hits his stride with the magnificent, surging ensemble that closes the first half of the evening and the orchestra, in superb form, captures the poetry and pathos – not just the horror – of the sleepwalking scene.

Idomeneo review at Hackney Empire, London – ‘English Touring Opera’s clear-sighted staging’

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English Touring Opera's handsome, coherent, well-sung production could use a more visceral edge