Review of Macbeth at Winter Opera Saint Louis

    Winter Opera Saint Louis has once again put operagoers in its debt by looking beyond the standard repertory. The company’s current offering is a fine production Verdi’s Macbeth, the composer’s tenth opera and his first adaptation of a Shakespeare play.

    An atmospheric performance of the overture sets the proper mood of foreboding for the Winter Opera staging. The orchestra plays with transparency under Edward Benyas’s direction. As the action proceeds, the sound from the pit and the stage are always in balance.

    Another help in setting the mood is the ominous sky depicted in Scott Liebl’s scenic design, which is effectively lit by Michael Sullivan. Amy Hopkins’ costumes, Laura Skroska’s props, and Jessica Dana’s wigs and makeup work together to set the action long ago.

    In the opening scene, the opera’s Macbeth and Banquo are greeted by a chorus of witches, not just three. This group acquits itself very well, as does the full chorus later.

    The libretto is by Francesco Maria Piave with additions by Andrea Maffei. It follows Shakespeare’s play closely but understandably compresses the action and reduces the complexity. Shakespeare’s text is an inexhaustible source of interpretive possibilities. The opera’s stirring music drives home the interpretative choices made by Verdi and his collaborators.

    Michael Nansel as Macbeth and Whitney Myers as Lady Macbeth take their characters on a convincing emotional journey as they deal with the intoxicating effects of ambition and prophecy and the dire consequences of their actions. Nathan Whitson as Banquo and Jonathan Kaufman as Macduff also turn in deeply-felt portrayals. All four artists produce a beautiful sound and sing with full commitment. The arias in Macbeth are not among the best known in Verdi’s output, but they are compelling in the Winter Opera performances.

    The fine supporting cast includes Angel Azzarra as a lady in waiting, Kevin Thomas Smith as Malcolm and an assassin, Michael Oelkers as a herald, Willard Moseley as Duncan, Damian Ziarko as Fleanzio, Joel Rogier as a servant and the doctor, and Alexandra Billhartz, Janelle Pierce, and Jordan Wolk as apparitions.

    John Stephens’ assured stage direction always puts the focus where it ought to be and astutely uses the space in the Ross Family Theatre of the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center, 210 East Monroe Avenue.

    The performance I saw was Wednesday’s dress rehearsal. The production opens at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, January 20, and concludes at 2 p.m. on Sunday, January 22.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by HAAS Studios
    A chorus of witches confront Macbeth (Michael Nansel, left) and Banquo (Nathan Whitson) in Act I of Verdi’s