Israeli Opera's Verdi Production Recasts Lady Macbeth as a Witch

The music flowed, the lighting glowed and the lady crowed. The witches were in black-and-silver, all the rest wore red, and after the blood was spilled and the singing stilled, peace was fulfilled.

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Witches dance around the cauldron in Verdi's opera 'Macbeth.'
Witches dance around the cauldron in Verdi's opera 'Macbeth.'Credit: Yossi Zwecker

In Shakespeare’s play, three witches propel Macbeth onto his murderous road to the crown; the lady, his wife, joins him and urges him to embark on a journey of blood, madness and death. Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, based on the play, has a whole chorus of women. In the production directed by Jean-Claude Auvray, which was first staged by the Israeli Opera in 2000 (there’s proof in print that I saw it, but I don’t remember it) and has now been mounted anew, the chorus of witches is cloaked in dark gray robes and wear wigs of long silver hair, which they remove and throw into the steaming cauldron. Three of the witches dance. But perhaps most important: In this production, Lady Macbeth is one of the witches, and before she ascends to the stage from the depths she removes her silver-haired wig.

Is that a meaningful statement here? Not really, because the essence of a production lies in the general plot lines and the gorgeous music. In any event, even if Lady Macbeth was a witch, she goes mad onstage like every woman (and Maria Pia Piscitelli is very impressive in terms of both stage presence and singing in the role).  

An important element of this production, whose sets and costumes were designed by Kenny MacLellan, is a pit on the elevated stage, from which the witches emerge and into which they disappear. In the premiere, the impressive pit caused various technical problems, and the curtain that was unfurled across the width of the stage for the scene of King Duncan’s murder also declined to cooperate. In the end, though, the music and the plot prevailed over the hitches, and the fact that the singers of Macbeth’s nightmares were positioned in the balcony (while properly frightening extras appeared before his and the audience’s eyes onstage) was quite impressive.

The lighting design, by Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi) works overtime in this production, illuminating with a red stripe the red carpet on the stage and bestowing a gilded aura on the huge square crown that rises from the depths of the stage pit for the scene in which Macbeth sees doom in the vision of the phantoms. Still, this impressive symbolic design clashed with the gilded cardboard crowns that a child ghost places in Macbeth’s hands, and with the black leather armchair, like something from the local furniture company American Comfort, which denotes the royal throne in this production.

When Lady Macbeth bewails the deterioration of the realm, I thought about a leader whose wife forces him to do things he doesn’t really want to do, and when the chorus of refugees with suitcases sings about the “oppressed land,” I had to remind myself that this is the operatic Scotland of witches and kings, and not the disintegrating Middle East of our time. In the end, the characters on stage welcome the peace that descends when Macbeth (Lucio Gallo) is murdered, but the individual who replaces him on the black throne is handed the knife stained with the blood of Duncan and Macbeth. The trees of Birnam Wood, which are on the stage from the first scene, do in fact march most impressively to crush Macbeth with the aid of an illuminated screen in the last act. The music is marvelous, and the colorful event reaches its conclusion peacefully.

“Macbeth,” at the Israeli Opera - Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center; last shows: May 27, 13:00; May 28, 21:00

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