Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Brutal rise to power (Macbeth/Glyndebourne)

Luke Styles, Macbeth (Bines cond. LPO/Glyndebourne Festival Jerwood Studio)
Macbeth, Festival 2015. Photo: Robert Workman
Orchestra with Jeremy Bines (cond.); Photo Glyndebourne/Robert Workman.
 Luke Styles has come to the end of this tenure as young composer in residence. His final piece is a one-act chamber opera dealing which has adapted Macbeth. The text is a fairly straight setting by Ted Huffman (also directing) of Shakespeare’s words. Worth noting this is in Modern English – not what Huffman describes as ‘Shakespeare’s original language’, which is rather disconcerting and hardly suggests deep textual consideration. Jeremy Bines (also Festival Chorus Master) conducted eleven players from the LPO  with Timothy Anderson (Piano, listed in the programme as Glyndebourne), and singers from the Chorus. By some way the standout was Ed Ballard as Macbeth, with perfect diction and character. Astonishingly he was back on stage later for Saul.  
A simple staging by Kitty Callister saw green grass-typed carpeting and some flexible furniture sparsely selected. This worked well enough but did look like standard one-act contemporary affair (viz. Cure/Corridor). Was the deal on Astroturf the same as rubberized pellets at the opera director’s warehouse?

Dramatically there was a conflict. Claims ‘to focus on the political, human aspects of the play –portions often overshadowed by the supernatural elements’ such as the witches, presumably, sit oddly alongside claims to respond to, inter alia, ‘the rise of ISIS’. The separation of religious fanaticism from supernatural fanaticism seems tenuous to me.
Opera-goers are familiar with trouser roles; here we have a skirt or rather dress role as Aidan Coburn played Lady Macbeth. Whatever the stated intentions I think this landed rather oddly and hinted at comedy where it wasn’t meant.
Macbeth, Festival 2015. Photo: Robert Workman
Ed Ballard as Macbeth; Photo Glyndebourne/ Robert Workman
Musically, the piece was effective, even if some portions were reminiscent of flutes in Peter Grimes  and others of the brass in Burgon’s score for Brideshead Revisited . This is not, however, to suggest that it appeared derivative, and it achieved a good deal of intensity. The piece was fluid and the dramatic element coherent. Interplay between the characters had little time to develop but overall this was successful. The full-length work which composer and librettist have indicated their intention to write will certainly be worthy of attention. Styles is clearly worth watching.
Macbeth, Festival 2015. Photo: Robert Workman
Photo: Glyndebourne/ Robert Workman
Overall: an effective, entertaining hour which whets the appetite for the full version.
Image gallery now posted here.

On a second trip on Friday, 28th, perhaps I was feeling better, but the whole thing came together far more effectively. A drum a drum indeed: the percussion was highly effective and all the singing seemed even finer. No doubt at all that this is worth hearing, or that the full-length one will be too.
Ticket holders for selected performances at the Festival can obtain free tickets to see this work this week; presented at ROH in the autumn.
Cast and Creative team
Composer Luke Styles
Libretto Ted Huffman adapted from William Shakespeare
Director Ted Huffman
Conductor Jeremy Bines
Duncan/Second Murderer John Mackenzie Lavansch
Malcolm Michael Wallace
Sergeant/First Murderer David Shaw
Lennox/Third Murderer James Geer
Ross Benjamin Cahn
Macbeth Ed Ballard
Banquo Alessandro Fisher
Lady Macbeth Aidan Coburn
Macduff Richard Bignall
Fleance (boy) Luke Saint
Lady Macduff/Porter Andrew Davies
Macduff’s son (boy) Xavier Murtagh
Members of London Philharmonic Orchestra

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