To be a strong company you need a strong leader; to be a strong opera company you need a titan conductor. Perhaps Richard Farnes is not a titan, but from the control, the deep-rooted understanding and the vitality he exhibited for Opera North's new production of Verdi's Macbeth, he has truly shone and shown his full potential.
The opening of the spring season at Leeds Grand Theatre, Macbeth is dark and blood thirsty, albeit at times neurotic and at others farcical, and all without the aid of the Thane and his dear Lady. The erratic, hocus pocus direction by Tim Albery and set designs by Johan Engels really should not work but they do, and make for an enthralling operatic and theatrical experience.
Knitting, an army of cleaning ladies, blood stained sheets, babies tossed in the air and a baby put in a bin, should perhaps rouse disgust within the audience and not humour, but the latter was the outcome.
Strong performances came from the leading duo, especially Antonia Cifrone as Lady Macbeth in her Opera North debut; she sang with beautiful clarity and careful phrasing, showing what a nasty and manipulative piece of work she really could be. Robert Hayward as Macbeth gives a strong performance, rich in tone, strong on action, but at times a little too full on and lacking in vocal difference, challenged either because the notes are too high, or are not placed correctly in the head register. The chest voice is sublime and his acting faultless; he portrays the role with a manic insanity and almost childlike naivety.
Peter Auty as Macduff also gives a fine performance. Sadly the same cannot be said for Ernesto Morilla Hoyt, as Banquo, whose lazy vowel sounds and vocal projection hardly pass the pit, a disappointment when, in all but voice, he is the part.
The fizz of the nuclear reaction created by conductor and orchestra in the caldron of the pit, mixed with a forceful chorus and stirred by the whole ensemble, makes, from scribe to stave, bloody good opera.
By Paul Dalton
In repertory and on tour nationwide. Part of Opera North's Shakespeare season, which continues with A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo et Juliette.
Read our preview of Opera North's newly-announced 2008-09 season here.