December 8, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 49
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Thursday, Oct 17, 2019



Macbeth sizzles but his lady fizzles
Macbeth sizzles but his lady fizzles
by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Many years ago, in the first of two interviews I did with Jane Eaglen for these pages, she said she much preferred angry roles to soft, doe-eyed women like Mimi in 'Boheme.' To which I replied that she should consider singing Lady Macbeth in Verdi's early opera. Now, too many years later, she has assumed that role for the first time in Vancouver Opera's production. Thus it was that I braved the snowy roads at the border to see her and Greer Grimsley (interviewed in SGN last summer) as Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth.

The experience was a mixed bag. Greer Grimsley, Seattle Opera's Wotan last summer, does not usually sing Verdi roles. His Macbeth showed an amazing control over his huge voice. It was at times the big, buzzing, George-London-type of super-masculine bass-baritone that Seattle audiences have become accustomed to. But in the big arias, he pulled back a bit on the volume and molded his sound to a warmer, smoother, and more beautiful tone that was well suited to Verdi's line. Grimsley's excellent breath control enabled him to spin that tone into most satisfying long phrases. In all, it was a successful assumption of a big, difficult role, both dramatically and vocally.

But good breath control is no longer part of Jane Eaglen's arsenal. The notes are still there, although it took more than half the opera before her high C's stopped sounding very shrill. But she has to grab extra breaths in the middle of phrases, including one time in the middle of a big high note. She was at her best in the big ensemble pieces, where her huge sound soared above the other singers and orchestra players, making manifest who was, at least initially, in control of the drama. Most disappointing was the lack of fire in her portrayal. There was no dramatic intensity, the likes of which we have seen in her roles in Seattle. There was also a complete absence of any soft high notes; they were all the big "money notes" she is known for. She did surprise with an excellent (if rather short) high D-flat at the end of her sleep walking scene.

Part of the problem was in the stage direction of Garnett Bruce. One was reminded of a bad high school performance. The production designs were just okay (less objectionable than Seattle's recent production), but the less said about stage movement, especially of the huge witches chorus, the better.

At the other extreme was the excellent conducting of Music Director Jonathan Darlington and the fine playing of the orchestra. Although there were times when the tempo dragged a bit, the music seldom lost energy (as it indeed did during the big ensemble immediately following Duncan's murder). Darlington expertly used Verdi's revolutionary orchestration to color each scene.

Also excellent was the Banquo of Turkish Burak Bilgili, who was even more impressive here than he was in the same role in Seattle. His ample, dark bass voice spun out Verdi's lines with apparent ease and to fine effect. Less successful was the Macduff of tenor John Bellemer. Excessive vibrato marred his otherwise attractive tone. The tiny role of Malcolm was better handled by Canadian tenor Luc Robert. Lady Macbeth's Lady-in-Waiting was sung with uneven tone by Jennifer Griffin Chesney.

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