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BWW Review: MACBETH Conquers at Mahalia Jackson Theatre

There are fewer well-known tales of murderous ambition outside of William Shakespeare's "MACBETH." The first of Giuseppe Verdi's three Shakespearean operas, "MACBETH" is in many respects an ideal fusion that combines the genius of Shakespeare with the extravagance and artistic might of the opera. The New Orleans Opera Association staged a dynamic and powerful production this past weekend at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre. It was a night of music fit for a king.

While different in form, this opera captures the tone of Shakespeare's Scottish play quite well, starting off with a chorus of witches casting spells over cauldrons and appearing quite eerie with a trick of stage lighting. One of the primary themes of "MACBETH" is the supernatural, a role filled by the witch chorus, who delight with their haunting voices as they foretell Macbeth that he will one day become king of all Scotland. The witches also tell Macbeth's fellow general Banquo that while Macbeth will be king, his descendants will rule for decades to follow.

Intrigued by the prophecy, Macbeth informs his wife Lady Macbeth of what the witches foretold. As she is equally ambitious as her husband (if not more so), Lady Macbeth quickly conspires to murder the visiting King Duncan in his sleep and blame the crime on his guardsmen and his son Malcolm. What follows is a descent into madness as Macbeth discovers his fortune will also be his undoing.

As the title character, Michael Chioldi's rich baritone voice powered relentlessly through the music, his earthy resonations packing a real punch. Ambitious and authoritative, he is the ideal portrayal of one of the most infamous characters put to page. Watching his psyche splinter as his paranoia increased in the second act was projected well. Overall, his character's development was exciting to watch as the intensity of his emotions came in waves, from his first spark of ambition, to the dismissal of his wife's suicide, to his lamenting death as he curses the witches who brought this fate upon him. This was an ideal portrayal of Macbeth.

Opposite of Chioldi's Macbeth is his queen, Lady Macbeth as performed by Brenda Harris. A compliment to her husband's lower notes, her high, clear voice soars magnificently in what is surely a vocally exhaustive role with nary a blemish to be found in her execution. Truly, she had "the voice of The Devil" that Verdi imagined for the character. While some would imagine her character to be more of a sinister soprano, Harris's voice rings sweetly, and I compliment that casting choice for it gives her a dose of humanity we often do not see. Dressed in a gown of red wine, her poise on stage personified the single-minded ambition of her character, and it was an enjoyment to see her descent into madness come to life as well.

Burak Bilgili's warm bass nicely fills the role of the sympathetic Banquo, and luminous tenor Derek Taylor delivered Macduff's lines with a clear, clean polish as his suspicion of Macbeth and his wife mounts. While there is plenty of toil, there was no trouble to be had, especially during the characters' individual arias. Resonating off the walls of the theater, the audience made their appreciation known for the vocal deliveries of the singers, specifically during Macbeth's lamentation aria "Pieta, rispetto, amore" and Macduff's vengeful "Ah, la paterna mano."

Unfortunately, much of the poetry in Shakespeare's original drama is lost in translation save for Lady Macbeth's infamous "Out damned spot," line. If you're looking for more memorable lines, you'll be disappointed. However, the music is the key with this opera, and Verdi's interpretation of "MACBETH" is sweeping in its execution and thrilling in its lush and surprising score. The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Robert Lyall, is dynamic, setting relentless tempi that made pulses race, especially during the most foreboding moments of the score.

The technical elements of the show all gelled together to produce a thoroughly entertaining evening. The set designed by Constantine Kritikos used a series of tall moveable walls with projections screened over them to reinforce the medieval setting of the story. At times, the stage felt like a gothic horror novel come to life, which complimented the full richness of the characters. Costumes designed by Julie Winn also fit the timeline of the story, which was refreshing in an age where Shakespeare has seen one too many contemporary twists. All of it is superbly illuminated with Don Darnutzer's brooding and haunting lighting design.

While the language in the Bard's telling of this tragic tale is absent, you'll be rewarded with riveting and powerful music that brings the tragic tale of "MACBETH" to life.


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From This Author Tara Bennett