Punch and Judy
English Touring Opera, Cambridge
In a hectic and heterogeneous operatic week, three out of four of the things I saw were successful or even triumphant, so you couldn’t call it typical. Opera North’s new production of Verdi’s Macbeth largely erased memories of last year’s deplorable effort at Glyndebourne, and was therefore a matter for gratitude. Unlike that production, it wholly de-tartanised the opera, which is all to the good. Tim Albery presented it as a study in the pathology of political ambition and of the guilt to which acting on ambition leads. If that left quite a lot of the opera dangling, I think that is more Verdi’s than Albery’s fault. The Witches were, as they almost always are, problematic, a collection of malignant charwomen. I know Verdi didn’t regard them as witches in a traditional sense, but the music he wrote for them fails to clarify what he thought they were. As usual, it was a relief to get to the second scene, in which, daringly, the first part of Macbeth’s letter to his wife was read by him, the second by her.
Antonia Cifrone, a name new to me, was the most convincing and musically vivid performer of the role I have seen. A terrifying contemporary power-dressed woman, she swept through her opening aria with immense confidence. Robert Hayward’s Macbeth was hardly up to her, but who would be? It was as if Thatcher and Major were trying jointly to take over the UK. Once more, Verdi is to blame. He gives Macbeth almost no music to compare with the Lady’s in quality, let alone in determination.