Most opera singers tend to wind down or retire by the time they reach their late 50s or early 60s. But at 75, Placido Domingo shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. He sings the title role in “Macbeth,” the first production of L.A. Opera’s 31st season, as the company looks to the future by expanding its repertoire and approaching standard pieces, such as “Macbeth,” in an innovative and experimental fashion.
This “Macbeth,” however, turns out to be relatively straightforward, give or take some liberties taken by director Darko Tresnjak (“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”), who returns to L.A. Opera after his well-received staging of Corigliano’s “The Ghosts of Versailles” in 2015. Perhaps because of Domingo’s tight schedule (he only arrived for rehearsals a week before opening night), there isn’t much in the way of staging, except for Tresnjak’s use of minion-like creatures who scale walls and somersault across the stage throughout the show.
That isn’t to say this “Macbeth” is a bust. Its singers, a mix of seasoned vets and debut artists, are the highlight. Though Domingo’s voice lacks the baritone quality from which his role might benefit, there was no shortage in his volume at the production’s opening night, and he acted the role brilliantly.
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Russian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk’s was also a triumph as Lady Macbeth. Though technically written for soprano, Semenchuk sang comfortably in her upper-register with exquisite technique, particularly in her Act I aria “Vieni, t’affretta! …Or tutti, sorgette.” With a round, velvety timbre that is well-suited for Verdi repertoire, Semencheck is proof that strict vocal classification is merely a social construct.
Italian bass Roberto Tagliavini made an impressive Banquo, and as Macduff, Arturo Chacon-Cruz was particularly expressive in his Act III aria “Ah, la paterna mano.” Also worth noting is Joshua Wheeker, an L.A. Opera Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist, who was as equally strong as Malcolm.
The orchestra’s work proved another highlight of the production. Although conductor James Conlon, celebrating his 10th year as L.A. Opera’s music director, has an eclectic repertory ranging from Mozart to “Macbeth,” it was clear he was in his element conducting this Verdi masterpiece.