Seattle Opera's new production of Verdi's Macbeth, an operatic retelling of the Shakespeare play, boasts fine singing and excellent playing by the orchestra. I like the spare set, too. Set designer Robert Israel devised a high-walled warehouse of gray panels cordoned off by gauze curtains, as if he wanted the audience to peer through a mourning veil.
Some minor directorial improvements are in order. In Act II, the escape of Banquo's son is poorly choreographed and must be more believable or emphatically ritualized. Macbeth's paltry crown strains credulity and reminds me of Israel's Slurpee Cup/Holy Grail in his 2003 production of Parsifal. In Act III, Macbeth's body gradually descends through a trapdoor and disappears; the audience tittered and laughed because it seemed to be timed as an afterthought. Quibbles aside, both casts are good, with a slight edge to the "Gold" cast (Sat May 20); with a majestic carriage and sonorous voice, Gordon Hawkins perfectly captures the craven yet ambitious Macbeth.
Seattle Opera should consider two captivating contemporary (i.e., composed in the last decade) operas set in English, Louis Andriessen's Writing to Vermeer (Nonesuch) and Brian Ferneyhough's Shadowtime (NMC Classics). In Vermeer, Andriessen's slashing instrumental interjections—especially in Scene Three, which owes much to Stravinsky's Agon—carefully cocoon beautifully etched melodies. Librettist Peter Greenaway's tender epistles to the great painter are moving and easy to follow. Shadowtime, Ferneyhough's bracing, masterly portrait of the philosopher Walter Benjamin, embeds multilayered singing, chanting, and recitation in a hermetic score that includes ticking clavés, a deliberately scraggly string section, bass trumpet, and excellently placed electronic music that harkens back to Stockhausen and Co. slugging it out on the tape decks in 1950s Cologne.
Macbeth concludes Fri May 19 and Sat May 20 at McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St, 389-7676, 7:30 pm, $41–$135.