Drama queens of all genders can rejoice. Opera Queensland will open its 2023 programme with Verdi’s hi-octane musicalisation of Macbeth, Shakespeare’s tale of murderous power-lust.
QNews sat down to preview the production with director Laura Hansford.
Self-described as a ‘Cairns-born bogan’, Laura Hansford never expected to find herself loving opera. Then Opera Queensland offered her a contract as Stage Manager.
‘I was working at the Gold Coast Arts Center, which is now HOTA,’ says Hansford.
‘I remember my boss saying to me at the time, “Watch out for the opera. People who go there never come back!” And I didn’t understand what he meant. Then I started working in opera and to understand what it is to be taken by it.’
After ten years with the company, Hansford has emerged post-Covid as an enthusiastic opera director.
‘What really gripped me and never let me go is the bigness of opera. If you’re directing Macbeth, the play, you’ve got ten actors in the room.
‘With the opera, I’ve got those same ten actors singing those same ten roles, plus fifty people in the chorus, plus sixty people in the orchestra. And all of a sudden what you have on stage is a whole society.’
Though billed as ‘in concert’, there’ll be no shortage of visual spectacle.
‘There will be staging and design elements,’ Hansford confirms. ‘The principals are fully costumed.
‘All “in concert” means for us is that the orchestra is on stage. Macbeth will be dying, but you will also see the person playing the violin solo that goes with that.
‘It’s almost like asking an extra character to be on stage with you. And that character is Verdi’s music.’
In some ways a concert presentation is an advantage for a piece as musically large as Verdi’s Macbeth. It helps make sure, as Hansford says, ‘we get the fullness of the sound out there.’
‘I feel it’s a very pointy score. It feels like the pointy end of the dagger. It has these highly sharp moments and a beautiful pace to it.
‘You’re never sitting in a scene going, “Okay, yeah, we get it you’re dying”. It really moves quickly.
‘People think of opera as being really long, but this opera is shorter than the play. Verdi took a pair of scissors to Shakespeare.’
Coming full circle
It’s been ten years since Macbeth has been heard in Brisbane. In a nice full circle, Hansford’s first assignment for Opera Queensland was stage managing the 2012 concert presentation.
Now, Verdi’s first Shakespeare opera is her first mainstage production for the company. Opera Queensland has also assembled an impressive roster of singers and musicians for the occasion.
‘I’m really excited to collaborate with Umberto Clerici, who has just been appointed as the Chief Conductor at the Queensland Symphony Orchestra,’ says Hansford.
‘This is his first outing with us as a conductor. And to have somebody at the helm who’s got that relationship with the QSO is amazing.
‘He is a passionate, amazing man. He isn’t just about the music. It’s wonderful to work with somebody who understands that this is a story and the music is part of the story.
‘And he’s really excited to see how far we can push the envelope with the singers, with the staging, and with the orchestra.’
The soloist lineup is impressive, and also includes locally trained tenor Rosario La Spina in the role of Macduff.
‘I am thrilled this is an entirely Australian-based cast, because we have an immensity of talent in this country,’ Hansford notes.
‘Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are debuting their roles and are both renowned and seasoned singers. Macbeth will be played by José Carbó, who is a regular at Opera Queensland.
‘You will know he’s an absolute stage animal. I honestly couldn’t couldn’t think of a better person to take on this role. I think he will articulate both the musical and emotional nuance of the character.
‘And then playing Lady Macbeth we’ve got Anna-Louise Cole, who is Sydney-based. In the last six months she’s been over in Europe performing as well.
‘I challenge anybody not to be touched by the immensity of her voice in the QPAC Concert Hall. She has power and emotion, as well as all these dark and light shades.’
All are welcome
Macbeth will also be sung in the original Italian, with English subtitles above the stage so that audiences can follow the story in detail.
For those who may be curious about opera, it’s an excellent opportunity to try it. Hansford is keen to encourage newcomers.
‘A complete sort of fabrication unfortunately lies over the top of opera so often – that you have to be educated in opera to appreciate it.
‘For me, all you need to appreciate opera is the desire to be entertained or interrogate characters’ choices. Why does somebody do that? Or how did that happen?’
Verdi’s tuneful opera has remained a durable item of the repertory, in a revision by Verdi for a 1865 Paris production.
Anna Netrebko is probably the biggest current star to have come from the piece. When it was first performed in 1847, though, Macbeth marked a major break with Italian convention in not centring on a love story.
Hansford has her own thoughts on this too.
‘I think that it’s Macbeth’s love story with himself. You can be in love with the idea of the person you want to be, and that can be a healthy thing or it can be a bad thing.
‘What I’m interested in is the small moral compromises, because I think we’re all faced with moral compromises in our lives.
‘And if you take the wrong path often enough, you can get very far away from your moral compass. And that’s what I think happens to Macbeth.’
Macbeth 9 – 11 March, Concert Hall, QPAC.
Tickets available at the Opera Queensland website.
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