Perth Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

four stars

THE annual visit by English Touring Opera – where it now presses the rarely-used pit of Perth Concert Hall into service for its orchestra, having moved when Perth Theatre was closed for renovation – is always a highlight of the Perth Festival of the Arts, and if Verdi’s take on Shakespeare’s Scottish play did not prove the draw that other productions have been, that is not in any way a criticism of the clarity of James Dacre’s production, sung in Andrew Porter’s English translation.

There is no making Macbeth (Grant Doyle) and his Lady (his fellow Australian Tanya Hurst in the Perth performance) likeable, with her ambition for her husband outweighing his vacillation, but something a little more visceral in their relationship might have been good to accompany voices that were more than up to the considerable demands Verdi makes of his principals. Hurst was as characterful as she was powerful in her singing, but very self-contained in her stagecraft.

Designed quite simply by Frankie Bradshaw, with fine lighting by Rory Beaton, the set created individual points of focus for moments like the “Is this a dagger?” soliloquy. The most memorable images in this modern dress version, however were created by the witches, a chorus of nine who look as far from “secret, black and midnight hags” as you might imagine, in vibrant teal habits. In fact, although Verdi appears to focus on the central couple, some of the best music here is for the choral forces, who were on top form, with the banquet scene with Banquo’s ghost a particular highlight.

After a slightly hesitant opening few bars, the playing of the orchestra under conductor Gerry Cornelius was well-balanced with the singers, although the strings were occasionally swamped by the winds. Musically, Macbeth is a crucial work in the development of Verdi’s operas, and perhaps what this production most accurately reflects is that theatrically the composer was still developing his practice.