Tradition has it that Shakespeare wrote his “Scottish Play” when he visited Perth with a troupe of actors and heard stories of Macbeth and Birnam Woods, the latter being just down the road in Dunkeld. So it seems appropriate that English Touring Opera’s only Scottish date for Verdi’s Macbeth should be in Perth in its excellent Concert Hall. Now, this isn’t an opera house but ETO productions are semi-staged and flexible enough for the many venues they use on their extensive travels.
This production updates the opera to a modern dictatorship, maybe Soviet style, and conveys the violence and terror in the opera well. For example, the women’s chorus are at one point the weird sisters and then later become First World War nurses. Sadly, it is sung in English, perhaps for accessibility reasons, but the truth is you really still need to follow the subtitles in order to understand the arias. The original Italian version would have been preferable: it sounds both more melodic and more dramatic.
Despite this shortcoming, there is some very good singing on display, in particular Tanya Hurst as Lady Macbeth. Hurst won the Czech Song Prize at the Emmy Destinn Young Singer’s Award in 2015, was a Finalist for the Wagner Society of England’s Singing Competition, and is already building an international reputation. Her Lady Macbeth is superb, both vocally and in terms of her acting: she leaves no doubt who is in charge in that disfunctional royal family! Macbeth, sung by Grant Doyle, is not quite as impressive. He has a tendency to shout—”can belto” rather than “bel canto”—although he does get better as the opera goes on. Andrew Slater sings Banquo smoothly, although he is a little underpowered, and Amar Muchhala is somewhat weak as MacDuff. The male chorus are equally as good as the women, and the orchestra, under the baton of Gerry Cornelius, are excellent.
Sadly, Perth Concert Hall isn’t full, and it makes one wonder whether the production would have enjoyed bigger audiences in Glasgow or Edinburgh, but then, neither of those is that near Birnam woods!