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New Theatre, Oxford

This is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and to commemorate this the Welsh National Opera has chosen to present three pieces that were inspired by Shakespeare plays – Verdi’s Macbeth, Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate (The Taming of the Shrew) and Andre Tchaikovsky’s The Merchant of Venice. The last of these was written by the pianist before he died prematurely and is very much in the idiom of classical music that was so prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s. Unfortunately, they did not bring The Merchant of Venice to Oxford so I can only report that people I know who have seen it think it is a fine work of the second rank (but not second rate!).

The new production of Verdi’s Macbeth got mixed reviews, but I personally thought it was good, responsive to both the text and the music, provocative and true to the spirit of Verdi’s intentions. As so often, the action was visually updated to the contemporary world of war and dictatorships; there were a lot of flags of St Andrew about; and some people at the interval were annoyed by all this. I thought that this approach worked and clearly brought out the links of this well-known tale to the contemporary world of dark-hearted power struggles, power grabbing and the inevitable destruction and suffering for the population. Director Oliver Mears and conductor Andriy Yurkevych took a deliberate approach to the pacing of the opera and its action. This is a contemplative, provocative and very dark production. Luis Cansino as Macbeth and Milos Sebestyen was Banquo were particularly telling in their parts, inhabiting the roles both dramatically and vocally with great force and also considerable beauty of tone. Bruce Sledge came into his own in Macduff’s big scene near the end; and Miriam Murphy, taking over from Mary Elizabeth Williams, was vocally dazzling throughout, especially in the powerful Sleep Walking Scene. I would deem this production a considerable success in every way, especially musically. Yurkevych was as much a star of the evening as any of the singers. The orchestra and chorus were brilliant and totally with him, completely responsive at every moment. This is his debut with the Welsh National Opera and I hope they are planning to ask him back. He is currently Music Director of the Polish National Opera in Warsaw, among other things. Lucky Warsaw!

  • Opera
  • Music: Giuseppe Verdi
  • Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave, based on the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare
  • Director: Oiver Mears
  • Conductor: Andrij Yurkevch
  • Producer: Welsh National Opera
  • Cast Includes: Luis Cansino, Miklos Sebestyen, Miriam Murphy, Bruce Sledge, Fiona Harrison-Wolfe
  • New Theatre, Oxford
  • 26 October 2016 on UK Tour
  • Review by Mel Cooper
  • 31 October 2016

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Canadian-born Mel Cooper first came to the UK to study English Literature at Oxford University and stayed. He was captivated by the culture and history of Britain, which he found to be a welcoming and tolerant country. After working in highly illustrated, non-fiction publishing for over a decade, he founded and edited the magazine Opera Now. Since then he has worked as a consultant to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, a broadcaster on British Satellite Broadcasting, a maker of audio shows and arts critic for several airlines, and as one of the team that started Britain’s first commercial classical music radio station, Classic FM, on which he was both a classical music DJ and creator and presenter of shows like Classic America and Authentic Performance. Throughout this period, he also lectured in music and literature in London and Oxford and published short stories in Canada. After working with the Genesis Foundation on helping to fund arts projects, he continues to write, review and lecture on music and literature. His first novel has just been published as an e-book. The title is City of Dreams. It is the first volume of a projected saga called The Dream Bearers. You can find the Kindle version of the book on Amazon.

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