Dallas Opera’s opener “‘Macbeth’ scores more on music than presentation
Along with the “Jeeves” stories, the film “Julia” and “Will & Grace,” “Macbeth” has always been a show where the title character is outshone by those around him. The witches are creepier; Malcolm is more heroic; Banquo gets a better entrance when you least expect it. Sure, the Thane of Cawdor gets two nice speeches courtesy of the Bard, but in many ways he’s more indecisive than Hamlet. Long before George H.W. Bush, Macbeth suffered from the Wimp Factor.
That doesn’t change in the Dallas Opera’s season opener, Verdi’s adaptation of the indifferently ambitious Scottish nobleman who is basically bullied into committing regicide but becomes so panicky about losing his stolen power that he engages in a bloodbath worthy of Quentin Tarantino.
If he sounds like a fascinating character, the general brooding in his labyrinth well, he can be. But as played here by Alberto Gazale, he’s a rabbity milquetoast compared to the real star: His wife, played with scorching vocal energy by Tatiana Serjan.
In this Tootsie Pop of a production, Lady Macbeth is the surprising center, the dark heart surrounded by a hard shell of circumstances. She’s always been the one you most love to hate, with her spidery manipulation of her husband and unexpected feelings of guilt. She’s a fully-rounded and complex dollop of human frailty and arrogance.
And with Serjan’s voice, which soars higher than a California condor during hunting season, she’s also the most thrilling musical character on stage. Despite a tendency to resort to Celine Dion-esque hand choreography to punctuate many of her lines, Serjan is a joy just to listen to. She could sit alone in a folding chair on a black stage in jeans and sweatshirt, deliver her arias the same way she did at the preview performance reviewed, and still get a standing ovation.
It helps that Lady Macbeth gets some of the better notes to sing. Gazale is hampered, at least in part, by a score that doesn’t exactly overload Macbeth with memorable passages. Banquo and Macduff get heftier bits while Macbeth, apparently astonished beyond all extremes by the magic around him, spends an unusually large amount of time singing from the floor.
The design has both positives and negatives. The set is modernistic, with start slate-gray walls (one with the skeleton of a primate stenciled puzzlingly on it) framing a sparsely decorated set. When the walls literally bleed, it creates a visceral, disturbing psychological component to the madness of the characters, but it technically doesn’t come off completely effectively.
And while the scenery seems non-specifically contemporary, the costumes gorgeous as they are appear culled from different eras. A scrim, ostensibly meant to invoke otherworldliness during the witchcraft scenes, is merely distracting and overused. There’s no unity to the production, no discoverable theme that manifests itself.
But Graeme Jenkins, the Dallas Opera’s accomplished musical director, does his part, leading the orchestra with brio. Glanced in the pit, he seemed absolutely delighted by the music and its execution. He should be: Given the chance, a concert of Serjan’s arias led by Jenkins would be quite a night indeed.
The final performance of “Macbeth” is at Fair Park Music Hall, 909 First Ave., Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets from $15. 214-443-1000.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 16, 2007