Opera review: A dark and beautiful Macbeth soars

In 1846 Giuseppe Verdi had the brilliant idea of taking William Shakespeare’s 1606 play “Macbeth” and setting it to music. And this past Friday that brilliant idea was brought to a very full life on the Town Hall Theater stage by the Opera Company of Middlebury.
Tackling “Macbeth” is not for the faint of heart, but clearly Douglas Anderson and Maestro Emmanuel Plasson were the guys to do the job. They bring together a myriad of divine elements to provide a wicked great night of entertainment for the audience. From the moment the aforementioned ever dashing and gifted Maestro steps into the light and cues his musicians that music never stops — intense, playful, eerie, dramatic, beautiful — it is a great score masterfully rendered. And Mr. Anderson’s direction sets the pace as a headlong rush to the dramatic disaster that is at the heart of “Macbeth.”
The first thing one notices upon entering the theater is the set — one of the best in the company’s history. It is evocative, functional and apparently made out of ceiling tiles (that you can buy for your very own castle). Designed by Mr. Anderson and facilitated by the team of Friml and Friml, it sets the stage for your trip to the Scottish moors and an evening with that young couple, the Macbeths. A great lighting design by Neil Curtis amps up the simple beauty of the set and is especially effective and creative when those marvelous witches appear.
Mr. Anderson and Mr. Plasson have paid due diligence to the importance of the choral work in this piece and have assembled a fabulous group of vocalists who deliver stunning ensemble moments throughout the night. These “moments” lift the hair from the back of your neck. They are that terrific. Bravo to these marvelous talents. Your work was beloved by your audience.
It is said that “casting is everything” and in the case of “Macbeth,” the two principals are often cast as, say, “Trophy Wife and Fat, Old, Impotent Husband” or “Shrewish Wife from Hell with Milquetoast Spouse” or sometimes just as two very young or very old characters using sex or fear of their mortality to achieve their goals. Joshua Jeremiah and Rochelle Bard are none of that. Rather, they seem like a nice young couple who stumble upon a seemingly golden opportunity to suddenly and easily advance all their latent and not so latent ambitions. And neither can resist. Their “conversations” often take place on a marvelous bed, front and center, solidifying our perception of them as partners in crime, each helping the other down the slippery slope of decency.
Ms. Bard has an amazing voice and a great stage presence. She looks like the girl next door, if, in fact, you happened to live next door to a very beautiful girl with an incredible vocal range. That sweet appearance makes her most interesting to watch as her ambitions to the throne are awakened. Her voice is rich and engaging. Never does an ear splitting sound or strident note emanate from this Bel Canto singer-actress. She is all about the beauty of the music. She is a wonder.
Mr. Jeremiah has an equally marvelous voice and he gives a nuanced, fascinating performance as a conflicted Macbeth. He, again, is also a true singer-actor, bringing a vitality and physicality to the role that is a delight to watch. This Lord and Lady Macbeth engage each other with a sparkling intimacy that makes their “road to hell” a very engaging one.
They are supported by that great chorus and terrific cast members. Ruben Casas’ Banquo is solid and
   LADY MACBETH PLAYED by Rochelle Bard, center, makes a toast during a dress rehearsal with cast members (from left) Anna Bridgman, Lauren Cook, Melanie Ashkar, Lillian Broderick and Allison Devery.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
beautifully sung. He is a fine actor, whose appearance as a ghost gives ample motivation for the beginning of Macbeth’s undoing. Alok Kumar is wonderful as Macduff. He has a rich, pleasing voice that conveyed his anguish at the murder of his family and he emanated a great sense of humanity making him a perfect antidote to Macbeth’s moral downfall. Yi Li as Malcolm brings a great voice and a dignity that befits his rise to the throne. Especially notable in smaller but vital roles are Kristin Gornstein as the Lady-in-Waiting and Isaiah Musik-Ayala as the Doctor. The two of them appear in the famous sleepwalking scene with Lady Macbeth and their voices combine to beautifully enhance the moment. Anna Bridgman, Amal El-Shrafi and Blake Jennings are gorgeously eerie as the heart and soul of the coven of witches that sets the drama in action.
All of the performances are deeply enhanced by the great costume design Deborah Anderson has brought to the stage. There is a dramatic difference between the appearance of those at court and those living in the madness of the woods. The witches are a wonder to behold. They are beautiful, twisted, bewigged shape-shifting creatures that capture the imagination at once while her costumes at court are rich jewel tones and lush fabrics that reflect light and convey the status of their wearers. And there are just enough chain mail, swords and armor to bring give life to a 1606 Scottish castle.
“Macbeth” is an eternally edgy and relevant tale that continues to speak to us about loyalty, love, guilt, ambition, our place in the world, and about what it means to be a moral human being. How lucky we are in our beloved, pastoral Vermont to have access to the level of storytelling and musicianship that the Opera Company of Middlebury provides. Over the 13 years since it was founded it has been a unifying force in this community, bringing us great artists who have expanded our knowledge and appreciation of the beauty and power and the meaning of what opera (and life) is. The Residence at Otter Creek is to be applauded for their continued sponsorship of this endeavor, as are the other business members of this community who share the vision of a vibrant life of opera in our town.
So, put your paper down and get your ticket to a fabulous night of “Macbeth” before they are all go Poof! (Like those witches!)
   ALOK KUMAR WAS excellent in his role in his role as Macduff.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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