Alpha Cast in Alphabet Soup
Jaume Plensa’s Macbeth at Barcelona’s Liceu

Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth at Barcelona’s prestigious Gran Teatre del Liceu was hard to ignore. Jaume Plensa is not only a globally admired sculptor, but he is also something of a Catalan hero. This new production was bound to be the talk of the town.

Jaume Plensa's stage production of Verdi's Macbeth

Jaume Plensa’s stage production of Verdi’s Macbeth ©

While not Plensa’s first stage production, it is definitely his most ambitious operatic outing. The artist lent his hand not only to the stage but also to the new gates (installed late 2022) at the entrance of the theatre which boasts “three clouds of letters,” stainless steel letters from three different alphabets. Indeed, this Macbeth was positioned as something of a Gesamtkunstwerk, rather than just a new directorial approach to a well-trodden story.

MACBETH -Gran Teatre del Liceu- Barcelona 2023

The set design was stark and often dramatic, and the production left no doubt about who was in charge. The first two acts featured a giant head with the sculptor’s typical lettering, from which Macbeth and Banco climb for their first scene. The letters, while idiosyncratic, are meaningless, much as the various hoisted individual letters in other scenes or the large cut-outs of random people with nonsensical platitudes in speech bubbles formed in rising tubes.

Audience waiting for the performance at The Liceu, Barcelona

Audience waiting for the performance at The Liceu

The costumes were equally characteristic but looked more like bathrobes the Riddler would wear in a Batman movie than outfits for Scottish warriors. Lady Macbeth wore a virginal white gown throughout, the lettering illegible by the absent colour contrast. In the third act, Macbeth’s soldiers looked more like the Hebrew slaves in Nabucco than warring highlanders.

The title role was portrayed by Luca Salsi (alternating with Željko Lučić), one of the most respected Verdian baritones of the day. His voice is mellifluous, blading, and precise. Almost too beautiful for a villain like Macbeth. Just how beautiful a voice he possesses he demonstrated in the 4th act “Pietà, rispetto, amore.”

Macbeth – Pietà, rispetto, onore – Luca Salsi (Teatro alla Scala)

He was well paired with Erwin Schrott’s Banco, whose bass-baritone is commanding, virile, and warm, and by Francesco Pio Galasso in the small but pivotal role of Macduff. “O figli miei” was delivered with palpable passion and some nicely articulated top notes. Fabian Lara in the bit-role of Malcolm stood out as a rising talent worth following.

Jaume Plensa's stage production of Verdi's Macbeth


But the evening belonged to Sondra Radvanovsky. The American-Canadian is at the height of her powers. Her voice has the heft of a dramatic soprano but retains the agility of a belcantista. She regaled the audience with numerous stunning diminuendos, surprising depths, gorgeous trills and more than a few bone-chilling squillos. Her sleepwalking scene and aria “Una macchia è qui tuttora” was a vocal masterclass. If only the director had allowed her to do more than just clutch a small lamp.

Verdi’s Macbeth. Una macchia e qui tuttora by Sondra Radvanovsky

The chorus was oddly spotty. The witches sounded underpowered, though when complete the chorus managed to shine. Perhaps the chorus master (Pablo Assante) thought that witches must whisper. But more likely, the director placed them too far back at the stage.

Jaume Plensa's stage production of Verdi's Macbeth


In contrast, there was nothing shy about the dancers (Choreography Antonio Ruz) who enthusiastically accompanied the witches and put on a sensational ballet in Act 3, certainly the most visually engaging moment of the evening, vacillating wildly between untethered bacchanalian ecstasy and stunningly disciplined choreography.

Josep Pons whipped the orchestra through the long score, teasing out some nice details though occasionally drowning out the singers.

A musically successful performance of the highest standard. Though an emotionally engaging evening it was not. Plensa’s reputation as a masterful sculptor remains undisputed. His position as an operatic director is less clear.

Performance attended: 19.2.2023

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