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Aye, fair is foul and foul is fair as the lady is given the blame

Macbeth

BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS: David Stephenson as Macbeth and Elisabeth Meister as Lady Macbeth as she stands by her man. Picture: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.
BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS: David Stephenson as Macbeth and Elisabeth Meister as Lady Macbeth as she stands by her man. Picture: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.

Macbeth

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

PERFORMED in English in Andrew Porter's translation, Verdi's way with Shakespeare perhaps seems more like the Bard than it actually is, with some lines in the libretto very familiar indeed.

Dominic Hill's production, however, is sensitive to the interpretive differences that the composer added in his version of the tale, and which led to some criticism (and Verdi's typically bolshie defence) a century and a half ago.

With much lighting of candles at crucial points, chief among these is the pitting of the pagan witches (hedonistic goth girls, nicely choreographed for the opening scene by Kally Lloyd-Jones, and pantomimic in the kitchen scene at the start of Act Three) against a Catholic God, and Macbeth's rule portrayed as a time of the collapse of civilised society with the man himself reduced to despair before the death of his wife, never mind his eventual defeat.

It is a rather misogynistic take on the tale, Elisabeth Meister's Lady Macbeth explicitly culpable in leading the man to his murders, although this demon undoubtedly has all the best tunes - and she makes the most of them.

Her glorious singing, one of four Scottish Opera debuts among a cast of just seven, with fine voices also including Thomas Faulkner's Banquo and Anthony Flaum's Macduff, stands out because she has the lion's share of the set pieces in a work where Verdi was pioneering a new style of story-driven music theatre.

The tension that creates between the demands of the music and those of the drama can present problems, but Hill's modern-dress staging and Derek Clark's conducting of an 18-piece chamber ensemble, adapting the director's smaller touring version in 2005, makes light of them.

If the compromises of the restricted company sometimes show in the stage pictures, the music emerges pretty much unscathed, with some lovely ensemble work, particularly the sextet at the end of Act Two.

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