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Macbeth by The Welsh National Opera - Review

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Modern Day Version Of Verdi Opera
Gruesome and blood-thirsty, Shakespeare's Scottish play has always been hard-hitting and it took composer Verdi two attempts to perfect his operatic version.

Macbeth, WNO , review, Birmingham Hippodrome
Violent and striking - the WNO's fantastic production of Verdi's Macbeth

Now the Welsh National Opera (WNO) has collaborated with Northern Ireland Opera to bring Verdi's Macbeth to stage as part of its Shakespeare season, coinciding with the 400th anniversary since the writer's death.

First performed in Belfast in 2014, this production got an airing at Birmingham Hippodrome on November 9 before it headed off to Venue Cymru in Llandudno for its final leg of the tour on November 23.

You can generally tell when a director has such a strong vision for a production because every small detail adds up to make the whole show a big success. That's the case with this tremendous version of Macbeth.

Director Oliver Mears, with strong backing from set and costume designer Annemarie Woods, is behind a striking, no holds barred, modern production that cleverly makes Macbeth a 20th Century dictator, who has forced refugees to flee war-torn Scotland. This correlation to what's happening in Syria adds an extremely interesting depth to the show. There's devil in the detail too that constantly creates an extra dimension to the tale.

WNO, welsh national opera, Macbeth, Birmingham Hippodrome
The chorus play The Witches in Macbeth

Lady Macbeth has a cupboard full of shoes that has more than a passing nod to Imelda Marcos, the wife of the Philippines dictator, while harrowing black and white photographs of missing people and video footage of brutalised villages make the chorus from the Scottish refugees particularly emotive.

Then there are the magnificent chorus of witches. Instead of three, we get three groups of grotesque characters. One group has scaly skin and a bald head reminiscent to Roald Dahl's creation in The Witches, another is humpbacked with long strands of grey hair and the third is sinister in a blood-stained babydoll dress.

They are devilishly chilling, especially in a brilliant scene where they conjure up spirits in a glowing cauldron for Macbeth by tearing the arms of baby dolls. Out of the shining cauldron appear semi-naked figures to predict the future before a row of Banquo's heirs with deformed doll's heads appear marching past. The baby dolls are particularly suitable considering the themes and language surround babies in Shakespeare's play.

WNO, welsh national opera, Macbeth, Birmingham Hippodrome
A modern setting for the Macbeth opera

That's not the only standout moment as this very stylised production constantly moves from one impressive scene to the next. It's also heavily loaded with a menacing, violent edge. Macbeth's thugs are track suited, tattooed hooligans, who kill Banquo by putting a plastic bag over his head. The interval arrives surrounded by gloom too as Macbeth's armed guards threaten to shoot witnesses to Macbeth's disturbing behaviour at the banquet after he sees Banquo's ghost.

But keeping all these elements glued together at the show's core is Verdi's emphatic score. Verdi, whose genius the WNO chief David Pountney argued could be classed as an equal to Shakespeare's, has managed to take the essence of the play and transform all the violent, power hungry and fearful emotions into song.

This production also benefits from clever editing between Verdi's original version in 1847 and updated overhaul in 1865. It includes Lady Macbeth's aria La luce langue and the Patria oppressa choral piece, while the Hecate ballet scene has been dropped and the final battle scene from the 1847 original closes the performance.

WNO, welsh national opera, Macbeth, Birmingham Hippodrome
Macbeth is a blood thirsty tale

Miriam Murphy playing Lady Macbeth has an excellent voice that demands the attention while Luis Cansino is a suitably powerful Macbeth that has a real emotion in his voice.

This intelligent version of an old classic injects a new visually strong vitality to Verdi's excellent work and makes Macbeth even more emotive and dynamic. It's a must-see modern adaptation that is unforgettable.


Macbeth Luis Cansino
Lady Macbeth Mary Elizabeth Williams (until 12 Oct), Miriam Murphy (from 26 Oct)
Macduff Bruce Sledge
Banquo Miklós Sebestyén
Lady-in-waiting Miriam Murphy (until 12 Oct), Fiona Harrison-Wolfe (from 26 Oct)
Malcolm Simon Crosby Buttle
Duncan Stuart Hulse
Doctor/Servant Martin Lloyd
Assasin/Apparition George Newton-Fitzgerald

Cast & Creative
Conductor Andriy Yurkevych
Director Oliver Mears
Set & Costume Designer Annemarie Woods
Lighting Designer Kevin Treacy
Assistant Director / Choreographer Anna Morrissey
Associate Choreographer Maxine Braham
Staff Director Caroline Chaney
Fight Director Kevin McCurdy
Video Designer Duncan Mclean
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Why? Exceptional version of opera Macbeth
When: On tour until November 23
Phone: 44 (0)29 2063 5000
Where: Birmingham Hippodrome and then Venue Cymru
Cost: From Ł17.33
Your Comment
Great review!
by Jay Johnson (score: 3|1368) 1893 days ago
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