Macbeth: San Francisco Opera


The evening was surreal. 40 thousand or so computer/corporate types attended a concert by Billy Joel and several other headliners here in SF. I have been here all week for Oracle Openworld and I needed to do something "special" for me, so I chose to go to the opera.

Thomas Hampson was performing the title role and while the performance in the first two acts was less than memorable from the entire cast... In the first act, he seemed to make a transition from Darth Vader to the Music Man, to some sort of drugged out hippy... This character ambiguity contributed to a clearly psychotic Macbeth, but it was difficult to follow. That said, Hampson's final aria was worth the entire evening for me. His command of the stage was inspiring and his voice seemed to finally shine with the power and color I am accustomed to hearing from this renowned performer. Raymond Aceto's booming bass was commanding and powerful as Banquo, but I was not quite able to retain the image of his fire from the early scenes...certainly not enough to carry me through the apparition scenes in the later acts when he is not "there". This was not a function of voice, but more of staging and presence. Alfredo Portilla was intriguing at moments but his strained top and stiff portrayal of the powerful Macduff, left much to be imagined. For tenors, the evening's surprise was young Noah Stewart as Malcolm. His voice was brilliant and energized in the top, and as he grows into the middle, he is sure to be a wonderful addition to the opera singer's landscape of talented artists. Kudos.

Overall, I was amazed at how the production constantly overreached and went for effect and flash over substance. Surely this was intentional, but it lost the elegance and refinement that I expect of such classic Verdi. I am far from an expert on this opera, but I lost the tyrannical evil that I envision surrounding, "Lady" and Macbeth in the arranged, cartoonish scenery. The flow of the story and the stunning lyricism of the orchestra were overshadowed by contrived situation effects in much the same as one would expect at a carnival sideshow. The connection between lust, passion and murder was seriously cheapened by the singers' positioning and jerky, angular movements.

I ask myself, in my pursuit of something "special" for my last evening in SF... did I overreach in attending the opera. Are my expectations too high, my views too harsh and critical?
Might I have had just as profound a musical experience in the presence of Billy Joel and Lenny Kravitz ?

That is a question to be answered another day.

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