Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Macbeth & La Sonnambula

Verdi Macbeth Opera Holland Park London 9 June 2005

Director Olivia Fuchs
Designer Bob Bailey
Lighting designer Giuseppe Di Iorio
Movement director Claire Whistler
Fight director Alison de Burgh

Macbeth Olafur Sigurdarson
Lady Macbeth Miriam Murphy
Banquo Mark Beesley
Macduff Leonardo Capalbo
City of London Sinfonia & Opera Holland Park Chorus/John Gibbons

Good that Opera Holland Park entrusted their 2005 opening production to Olivia Fuchs, whose Fidelio at Holland Park is etched on our memories.

Not possible to be too serious about her bloody take on Macbeth, a great show of popular entertainment, as it was for Verdi's audiences, with the chaste white set turning red before our eyes, drenching the stage, rivulets still trickling alongside Holland Park as we walked home towards Kensington.

A heavy overcast evening for the second performance, not so much blood and thunder as blood, helicopters and peacocks, their screeching anticipated uncannily by Verdi in his Overture! The plot, fast driven by as fetching a coven of young witches as ever you'll encounter disporting themselves on climbing frames (appearances deceive!) left no time for Shakespearian poetry.

Baritone Olafur Sigurdarson from Iceland (pictured right) and the Irish dramatic soprano Miriam Murphy were well matched in villainy and vocal projection of their unholy alliance, succumbing at the end to visions of power eclipsed, right triumphing over wrong. The young anti-heroine, who has starred for Opera Ireland and English Touring Opera, was authorative in menace and unswerving determination, then a moving sleepwalker (not long ago Wexford Festival claimed to be unable to engage Irish principals!). Mark Beesley was sympathetic as Banquo, apprehensive before meeting his fate and eerily strutting around afterwards as the ghost at the banquet; Italian-American tenor Leonardo Capalbo made the most of Macduff - definitely a name to watch for.

John Gibbons directed the alert City of London Sinfonia astutely. They played Verdi's splendid score powerfully, on a level with the front rows, but without overwhelming the singers, who were helped to project easily by the bloodied backdrop. The young chorus sang, acted and managed their costume changes well, making a substantial presence on stage in their various guises. Good bright side-titles with sufficient translated text for those who are glad of their help (even ENO has now conceded the need for them).

An excellent Night at the Italian Opera; Sonnambula, another sleepwalker, next night!

Bellini La Sonnambula Opera Holland Park London 10 June 2005

Director – Alasdair Middleton
Designer – Bob Bailey
Lighting designer - Giuseppe Di Iorio
City of London Sinfonia/Conductor – Brad Cohen

Amina – Linda Richardson
Elvino – Paul Austin Kelly
Teresa – Anne Mason
Rodolfo – Tim Mirfin
Lisa – Kate Ladner
Alessio – Simon Wilding
Notary - Peter Kent

Arriving for the second performance of La Sonnambula at Holland Park, with the previous night's blood still dripping down the wall in our minds, never to be washed away, it was a pleasure to be greeted by the ingenious Bob Bailey's new backdrop, a sunny image of gold and white for Vincenzo Bellini’s sleepwalker, presaging a happy beginning and ending too for this slight tale of a marital hiccup and its resolution. Bel canto singing is all in this fantasy world of rural domesticity, and we were soon being regaled with beautiful tunes galore.

Brad Cohen put his mark upon the music with orchestral playing which responded to his elegant painting of rhythm and rubato, always considerate to the singers, and the City of London Sinfonia's accompaniments had us respecting Bellini's orchestration more than we had expected. Cohen has been researching Bellini and restored material from the original autograph score; there is an indication that this is the second instalment of a Holland Park Bellinian odyssey.

La Sonnambula begins with choral jollifications for the imminent marriage of the village favourite, and last night's witches and warriors were transformed into affable Swiss peasants in Alasdair Middleton's witty production of their clumsy rehearsal for the festivities.

Once again Holland Park's youthful opera chorus becomes a constant delight instead of an embarrassment, as used often to be the case in 19 C Italian opera, still to be seen so in some of the La Scala DVDs. As the bride's neighbours they pop out of windows, and steal many of the scenes, notably delicious moments when they find a sleeping woman in the Count's hotel bedroom and, the morning after Amina has been jilted, emerge bleary eyed to go off in their night-gowns to support their chaste friend.

It is all played with gentle humour, entirely suitably. Linda Richardson (pictured in the wrong bed!) has the right village-girl charm and tosses off her roulades competently; a little light-weight for a Bellini heroine perhaps, and her sleepwalking persona was not as convincingly characterised as Lady Macbeth's with her candle yesterday.

Paul Austin Kelly
sings well as the unsympathetic tenor fiancé, who all too easily swaps his affiliation to Kate Ladner, who has a characterful voice and presence, and is effective as Lisa, the sullen young woman on the sidelines, who fancies the disruptive stranger, the long absent young Count Rodolfo....

Tim Mirfin, handsome and irresistible as the young Count returned to claim his inheritance, has a sonorous bass voice and immaculate delivery and inadvertently compromises Amina; a pity that after he has explained to the assembled company the mysteries of somnabulism, his part rather fizzles out. Anne Mason gives character to Amina's foster-mother, who sorts out the confusion and puts the village marriage back on course.

With so fickle a bridegroom and disturbed a bride, happy-ever-after can't be taken for granted with this fairy-tale couple. No matter, Opera Holland Park's La Sonnambula is premiered with a deliciously charming production, full of artistry and inventiveness in support of some splendid singing.

If you want to be really terrified by Verdi's Macbeth, do get hold of
the spell-binding Zampieri/Bruson/Sinopoli DVD, reviewed on TheOperaCritic at
http://www.theoperacritic.com/Pages/Reviews/V2PGWDVD2.htm .

Leonardo Capalbo as Macduff and Olafur Sigurdarson as Macbeth; Linda Richardson (La Sonnambula) sleepwalking
photos by Fritz Curzon

© Peter Grahame Woolf