Thomas Hampson and the sensational Najda Michael star in the Metropolitan Opera's revival of Verdi's opera.
The evening's primary question on many operagoers' minds was whether Hampson would have enough vocal weight for the ambitious but conflicted Scottish warrior on the rise. Initially, it wasn't clear he would, but as Macbeth continued his ascent to the throne and simultaneous descent into hallucinating guilt, Hampson became increasingly assured. When in the final act and sitting down -- he'd already sung from a supine position -- he talked of life "signifying nothing," he signified plenty.
As for acting the role, he's still finding his footing. For example, at the moment when he spots the ghost of Banquo (Gunther Groissbock in blood-stained white shirt) at the supposedly celebratory banquet, Hampson behaves like a man who -- uncertain about the king-making route he's taken -- never takes charge of his exalted new position. He might want to re-think the approach.
As for Michael -- who has already taken on the driven Lady Macbeth in other houses -- the propulsive clarity she exhibited throughout the production, culminating in her final aria where mania devolves into madness, was riveting. Slim and stylish in Mark Thompson's gowns (and more than once clad only in a Cat on a Hot Tin Roof-like slip) and with long blonde hair often flowing, Michael was also sex incarnate. Her libidinous attack, which resulted in a deep swoon at the end of one smooch -- and Hampson's equally heated response -- silently shouted "chemistry." Even Michael's curtain call, where she bent at the waist and held the doubled-in-half pose, was wow-worthy.
Conducting a score in some ways off Verdi's lyrical beaten track Gianandrea Noseda suggested at the beginning that things could become vague. Before long, however, everything was beautifully articulated -- especially from the moody woodwinds. Under Noseda's floridly wielded baton, the major supporting players also sounded in top form, chief among them, the imposing Groissbock and Dimitri Pitta, whose sole solo as the grieving MacDuff was heartbreaking.
Since there's so much choral music in the opera, and since the chorus members must pass as weird sisters, soldiers, oppressed and fleeing citizens, and aristocrats wondering about their king's odd behavior, an onus is on them. Although some of the sisters were weirder than necessary, the crowds did choral director Donald Palumbo proud.
One thing that is slightly disturbing about this production is that the place and time in which this Macbeth occurs is tricky to pin down. Often the Macbeths look like a Yuppie couple and their dinner guests resemble well-heeled Manhattan couples at a spring charitable event, but the realm over which they snarlingly reign could pass for a distressed European country.