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Royal Opera House

THEScots are well served in operas, considering that nation has done for the genre what the Bay City Rollers did for popular music - nothing. Donizetti's Lucia Di Lammermoor allowed Callas and many sopranos a chance to play a loopy heroine, and ditto Verdi's Macbeth - for the mad scene see Lady Macbeth sleepwalking.

Macbeth has never had the affection of opera goers that Verdi's Otello has enjoyed. It could be because the title role is a baritone, and let's face they just aren't as sexy as tenors (and we'll discount Pavarotti from that statement). Indeed, depending on who is playing the part, the lesser role of Macduff has overshadowed the scheming general-cum-king, especially when tenors with the qualities of Domingo, Carreras and the Italian fat boy have played the part.

That was not the case in this revival of Phyllida Lloyd's 2002 production. Thomas Hampson made a fine, brooding Macbeth, while Joseph Calleja was a disappointment as Macduff.

The Maltese new boy on the block has been playing the Scottish nobleman on and off for about a decade but he seemed out of place in this production. Perhaps his bel canto style did not fit alongside the bigger personalities of Hampson and Violeta Urmana (Lady Macbeth). A Rolando Villazón he is not.

The real star of Macbeth is, as always, Lady Macbeth. Urmana hovers on the borders of mezzo-soprano/soprano, although such is the power of her voice, despite a slight cold, that her mezzo days might be best saved for recitals.

Lady Macbeth is the driving force behind her dithering husband's quest to fulfill one of the witches' prophecies that he will be king. She does get the best arias and Urmana hit all the right notes, well most of the them with the help of Lemsip, in the sleepwalking show-stopper, as far as there is a show-stopper in Macbeth, Una macchia e qui tuttora.

John Relyea as the doomed Banquo was superb as this tale of power struggles north of the border - forget the war with England, just look behind you. Macbeth is eventually defeated in the climatic fight with Macduff and the true king is restored to the throne and the witches' final prophecy is fulfilled.

Anthony Ward's designs and Paule Constable's lighting provide a dark, atmospheric production that seems to take place mostly in the Macbeths' sparse bedroom. Conductor Yakov Kreizberg, making his Covent Garden debut, does a fine job in holding the attention during the periods when Hampson seems to spend an eternity walking around the stage, in an operatic form of method acting.

On second thoughts, perhaps Macbeth just isn't as good as Otello.

Review by Peter Wilson

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