Los Angeles Opera Review: MACBETH (Independent Opera Company)

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by Barnaby Hughes on June 22, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


Hearing Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth is a rather disorienting experience, at least at the beginning. The difference is that we’re used to Shakespeare’s English, even if it is archaic. Translating his tragic play into Italian makes it seem like something else entirely. Then add to that the very Italian flavor of Verdi’s score. Even though it Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema LA review of Independent Opera Company's production of MACBETH.doesn’t sound like Macbeth, the story is still basically the same, albeit somewhat simplified. Many of Shakespeare’s minor characters are excised, as well as King Duncan. Apart from the principal characters of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Banquo and Macduff, there are two principal choruses, a female chorus of witches and a mixed chorus of Scottish refugees.

The Independent Opera Company’s current production of Macbeth is a rather disappointing experience. Yet, because the principal roles are double cast, it might not be a letdown for every audience. Let’s start with what is good about it. First, there is the excellent musical direction provided by Galina Barskaya, whose fine piano playing is the driving force behind the production. She ably conducts both the singers on stage as well as the small quartet that accompanies her.

Then there is Jay Stephenson as Macbeth. By far the best actor in the cast, he sings with a rich, robust baritone voice and brings emotional depth to his role. James Salazar as Macduff also performs well, especially his aria “Ah, la paterna mano” in Act 4. There are also some fairly strong singers in minor roles, such as Jessica Brusilow in the chorus and Jennifer Lindsay among the witches. In general, the big, Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema LA review of Independent Opera Company's production of MACBETH.loud choruses came off well, but the softer choruses, especially those performed by men only, were weak.

Some of the costumes were decent. The witches, for example, dress like modern day goths in loose black and red clothing; they also wear dark face make-up. Strangely, the cast’s Scottish refugees walk about attired in suit jackets and ties, while Macbeth and Banquo wear drab army green. And there is a noticeable lack of kilts and plaids. The weirdest costuming choice of all, however, is when Lady Macbeth comes on stage wearing a red bathrobe for her coronation.

While Lady Macbeth is easily the least likeable of the opera’s characters, in Erica Lazerow Davis’ hands she comes off even worse, nearly ruining the show for this reviewer. Simply put, Lazerow Davis’ voice is past its prime. While she occasionally Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema LA review of Independent Opera Company's production of MACBETH.sings sweetly and hits her high notes fairly well, her voice is shrill and often quite flat. Moreover, her acting is stiff and her face lacks expression.

Scott Blois’ stage direction also leaves something to be desired. Of course, since the production is staged inside a small church he doesn’t have much to work with. Although the altar is pushed aside, the cross remains fixed on the back wall and is not covered up. No thought seems to have been given to the lighting, which is not dimmed above the audience, making it even more difficult to read the supertitles that are awkwardly placed to the far right of the stage above the orchestra. Entrances and exits are awkward. Perhaps there isn’t enough space in the dressing room? Or maybe cast members just don’t know Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema LA review of Independent Opera Company's production of MACBETH.where they’re going? Sometimes a principal character fails to appear on time and holds up the whole production.

Although its production of Verdi’s Macbeth is clearly flawed, the Independent Opera Company holds promise nonetheless. Having only completed its first season, the company has managed to stage four productions with rather limited resources and has attracted both experienced and emerging talent. While they have much to improve on, the Independent Opera Company is still worth watching and deserves to be taken seriously.

Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema LA review of Independent Opera Company's production of MACBETH.

Independent Opera Company
various Lutheran churches in West LA and Santa Monica
scheduled to end on June 30, 2012
for tickets, visit http://www.independentoperacompany.com/tickets/

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