REVIEW: Macbeth (Lyric Opera Chicago)

 

Verdi’s "Macbeth" is a Beautiful Tragedy

 

32 Act Four, MACBETH pic12507 c. Robert Kusel

   
Lyric Opera presents
   
Macbeth
  
Composed by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by
Francesco Maria Piave
Directed by
Barbara Gaines
Music directed by
Renato Palumbo
at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker (map)   
through October 30  | 
tickets: $46-$207  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

If Shakespeare were a rock band, Macbeth would likely be the first track on the B-side of his greatest hits album. The classic tragedy about a power-hungry Scottish royal couple is certainly popular, but has never managed to reach the same lofty placement on the theatrical mantle occupied by Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.

12 Nadja Michael, Thomas Hampson, MACBETH DBR_2517 c. Dan RestI can understand why. For me, the title character always came across as a brutish ogre who stomps around in fits of testosterone-driven rage. You can almost picture him delivering his lines, as poetic as they may be, in a series of grunts. He’s like the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the Shakespearean world.

But Lyric Opera’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth infuses the treasonous Scottish nobleman with a vulnerability I have never witnessed before. Perhaps it is because of the passionate singing, the low bellow delivered by performer Thomas Hampson, that allows you to really feel the emotions behind Macbeth’s words. Or perhaps it is that unique quality of opera wherein characters sing aloud their inner dialogue regardless of how many chorus members are on stage. Either way, this Macbeth may have a bold exterior, but there’s no mistaking that inside he hides a sensitive, insecure soul.

Although Hampson is billed as the star of the show, and he certainly delivers, the real standout is Nadja Michael as Lady Macbeth. This woman is absolutely outstanding, with a stunning presence anytime she’s onstage. The amount of endurance and vocal strength required to sing her four arias must be a harrowing task. Yet she does it without ever dropping her energy. And although the production is in Italian (with English super-titles), Michael’s acting and vocal inflection are paired so perfectly that you know what she is saying even if you have absolutely no clue what she is saying.

Leonardo Capalbo, as Macbeth’s foe Macduff, executes an aria in the fourth act that outdoes all the other male cast members. Sung right after he discovers Macbeth has slain Macduff’s entire family, it is a powerful and tragic piece that is infused with real heart, mourning and rage.

Unfortunately, Štefan Kocán’s portrayal of Banquo. Kocan is not as impressive – he has a uniquely guttural voice that, while I appreciate its distinctiveness, serves as a distraction.

21 Nadja Michael, MACBETH DBR_3062 c. Dan Rest 18 Nadja Michael, Thomas Hampson, MACBETH DBR_2666 c. Dan Rest
03 Nadja Michael, MACBETH DBR_2329 c. Dan Rest 29 Thomas Hampson, MACBETH DBR_3218 c. Dan Rest 23 Thomas Hampson, Nadja Michael, MACBETH pic11478 c. Robert Kusel
15 Act One, MACBETH pic22287 c. Robert Kusel 09 Nadja Michael, Thomas Hampson, MACBETH DBR_2463 c. Dan Rest

As you would guess, the Lyric does not shy away from spectacle. There’s plenty of eye-catching scenes throughout, including the opening which features not one but three actors flying through the air on cables. The set itself is towering, resembling a giant metal spaceship. Although it’s impressive in its scale, the futuristic look of the sleek metal seems out of place for a play in which swords are considered advanced weaponry.

Macbeth may be a man’s world, but that doesn’t mean a woman can’t steal the show. And Michael certainly does as Lady Macbeth. At the same time, the intensity of Verdi’s musical orchestrations brings unparalleled clarity to this Elizabethan classic, which – for all its action – really is about emotional tragedy.

For a combination of stunning spectacle and masterful acting and singing, Macbeth is the perfect production for those wanting to witness opera for the first time.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

01 Act One, MACBETH pic04030 c. Robert Kusel

 

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Review: “Dr. Harlon’s Keys to Better Living”

 Strong Acting Brings Out the Comedy in this One-Man Show

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ComedyChicago presents:

Dr. Harlon’s Keys to Better Living

Performed and written by Will Clinger
directed by Kevin Theis
thru December 13th (ticket info)

review by Keith Ecker

It is in the most desperate of times that we become desperate for our search for happiness. In these cloudy days of economic gloom, war and reality television, many cling to religion or spirituality as a guide to a better tomorrow. The title character in Dr. Harlon’s Keys to Better Living considers himself a sort of shaman, leading the audience on a supposed path to self-fulfillment. In reality, the doctor is much more of a sham than a shaman, and his advice—played out vicariously through characters—is more of a sure-fire path to self-destruction than fulfillment. All this irony, and a very committed actor, makes this one-man show an entertaining spectacle.

dr_harlon3 The brains behind the play is Will Clinger, a veteran of the Chicago stage and screen. He is probably most known for his work as host of WILD CHICAGO, a long-running television show that aired on WTTW.

The play begins with Clinger donning the role of the over-enthusiastic self-help guru Dr. Harlon. Jokes fly fast as the doctor accidentally steps out of the spotlight and receives a call from his good friend David Hasselhoff. Meanwhile a video screen enhances the downstage action, displaying visuals that graphically depict the doctor’s terrible advice, advice that includes such nuggets as the importance of assimilation and suppressing the negative attributes of one’s personality.

After the first scene with the doctor, we never actually see the character again. Yet his advice periodically appears on the screen, serving as transitions from one vignette to the next. These vignettes showcase a variety of followers of Dr. Harlon’s advice. The motley cast of characters includes a father who will go to great lengths to get the perfect Christmas photo of his infant son, an American wine connoisseur dishing about his trip to rural France and a lounge performer who teeters between manic highs and depressing lows.

Clinger’s commitment to the characters represents a skilled comedic actor. Although his range might be narrower than other performers—some of his characters seemed to be slightly altered clones of each other—he does a convincing job of breathing life into each personality, providing them with unique points of view. And with only a matter of seconds between one scene and the next, Clinger pulls off quite the transformative feat.

dr_harlon4 The writing too is worthy of praise, though this praise is tempered by a couple glaring flaws. The play begins with a steady stream of humor with Clinger portraying Dr. Harlon, and there are some big laughs to be had at the wine connoisseur character who delivers a monologue reminiscent of David Sedaris at his best. But there are parts that drag, where the jokes are too dispersed to hold up the scene. There are also a couple of vignettes whose endings undermine the entire scene, particularly one featuring a hack talent agent who’s rehashing days gone by. I won’t give away the scene’s ending, but basically it is an unnecessary cliché that devalues an otherwise rich character.

Director Kevin Theis should be commended for setting vivid scenes when the only props available are a chair, a screen and Clinger. Still images of a landscape with subtle sounds of birds chirping and a frame of a cocktail party accompanied by murmurs and glass clinks help provide vivid, yet minimalist, environments for Clinger’s characters to live in.

Overall, Dr. Harlon’s Keys to Better Living is a comical portrayal of self-destructive self-help. At times the writing falls a little flat, but Clinger knows how to pick up the mood and get the play back on track.

 

Rating: ★★★

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The Mime Company on WTTW last night

There was a nice feature on WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight” yesterday evening, and I thought I’d post it today.  (hmmmm…I think that’s the first time that I’ve ever written “tonight”, “yesterday” and “today” in the same sentence).  Unfortunately it wasn’t posted on either www.wttw.com nor YouTube.  So you’ll have to *settle* for this clip that was posted on YouTube less than 24-hours ago: