As the orchestra and chorus occupied the stage, a cast of excellent soloists took front and center in William Shakespeare’s tragedy, singing and acting with fiery power. Most notable were baritone Mark Rucker as the doomed Macbeth and soprano Rosa D’Imperio as his ambitious Lady.
Longtime conductor and Opera Santa Barbara music and artistic director Valery Rifkin led the orchestra and Lukas Cerny prepared the outstanding chorus. Besides Rucker and D’Imperio, the cast included basso Terry Cook as Banquo, tenor Jeffrey Springer as Macduff, tenor Chad Berlinghieri as Malcolm, soprano Stephanie Cook as the Lady-in-Waiting, and bass-baritone Richard Woods in the roles of doctor, servant, herald and assassin. Simon Williams provided connecting narration.
Verdi created Macbeth — with libretto by Francesco Maria Piave — in 1847, relatively early in his long and productive career. The Milanese poet and translator Andrea Maffei also worked on the libretto while Verdi created the music.
This is opera at its grandest, and it was instructive to hear how the singers, in evening dress, managed to transport the audience with their voices and their subtle acting. Soprano D’Imperio is a tall, imposing brunette who first swept on stage in a bright red strapless gown, her long dark hair falling over one shoulder.
She was entirely commanding in the first scenes, urging her husband on to his dark deeds and seemingly impervious to the dire nature of their plotting. Later, as Lady Macbeth’s madness fell upon her, she mimed despair while urging him on to still more killing.
Rucker made his debut with the Opera Company of Philadelphia as Renato in Un Ballo in Machera with Luciano Pavarotti. He is another of those globe-trotting performers who lights all over Europe and the United States, including the Met in New York.
Springer was powerful as Macduff, his acting filled with pathos, anger and resolve. Stephanie Cook’s Lady-in-Waiting added another dimension, her soprano heard brilliantly in the ensembles as the evening progressed.
One interesting touch was the singing of the chorus’ sopranos en masse as the witches consulted by Macbeth. Those crystalline voices were chilling as they cackled their prognostications: Macbeth had nothing to worry about until Birnam Wood should move on Dunsinane Hill, and the guilty thane would not die by the hand of “man born of woman.”
Then invading English soldiers cut branches from Birnam Wood to creep up on the castle, and Macduff informed Macbeth that he had been “untimely ripped” from his mother by Caesarean section.
This performance was the final one of the season for Opera Santa Barbara, and it provided a rousing finish to a successful year.
— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.