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Macbeth the opera: A preview of a Verdi masterpiece

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Posted on May 29, 2016 |
By David Weinstock



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Soprano Rochelle Bard and baritone Joshua Jeremiah sing the roles of Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, respectively, in the Opera Company of Middlebury's production of the Verdi opera. It opens at the Town Hall Theater this Friday. Independent photos/Trent Campbell

Remember Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” from high school English class? Composer Giuseppe Verdi liked the play so much that in 1847 he transformed it into an opera. Over the years since, Verdi’s “Macbeth” has rarely been staged, but you can see it live when Opera Company of Middlebury’s production opens June 3 for a five-performance run.

In an era when many American opera companies are struggling or even shutting down, the Opera Company of Middlebury has thrived. Audiences keep coming back and so do the artists. The title role will be taken by baritone Joshua Jeremiah, who sang Athanaël in OCM’s 2012 “Thaïs.” Jeremiah explains the creative draw: “The repertory that the company does is very special music that doesn’t often get done. Any opportunity to get to work on a piece like this anywhere I will absolutely jump at.”

Also returning to Middlebury is soprano Rochelle Bard, who was Violetta in OCM’s 2014 “La Traviata.” For her, the chance to play Lady Macbeth is a welcome change from her usual assignments as romantic lead. “I never get to be evil. I’m always the one who dies of consumption at the end,” Bard says. “There aren’t many female roles that have that kind of power. She’s so manipulative and backhanded and smart.”

The main cast and Maestro Emmanuel Plasson and the orchestra will give four shows; the “covers,” or understudies, will also get their chance in a full-length performance with piano accompaniment. Unlike some recent OCM productions, which featured modern costume and scenery, this Macbeth is firmly set in medieval Scotland, with a full chorus of witches.

The intimate space of Town Hall Theater gives singer-actors more scope to create subtle performances.

“We don’t need big gestures because the house is not 3,000 seats,” Bard says. “I know people are going to be able to see my facial expressions. It’s more similar to being on TV where you can have microexpressions.”

Jeremiah agrees, adding that although the hall’s excellent acoustics have room for the biggest voice, quiet passages can be quieter than in a bigger venue.

The only downside of the smaller hall is that tickets will go fast; don’t miss out!

OCM Artistic Director Douglas Anderson is excited about Verdi’s “Macbeth” as Jeremiah, Bard and the rest of the cast make their way through rehearsals.

“With two of the most challenging roles in opera, you can’t even consider Macbeth unless you have two absolutely riveting singer-actors,” Anderson says. “We have them in Rochelle Bard and Joshua Jeremiah.”

Rounding out the cast of Macbeth are Rubin Casas, who will sing the bass role of Banquo, and tenor Alok Kumar, last season’s triumphant Calàf, who will sing Macduff. Tenor Yi Li will perform Malcolm.

Anderson says the opera has a passionate, melodic score and an unrelieved intensity, and has lately been rediscovered as one of his masterworks.

For tickets, visit Town Hall Theater, call 382-9222, or order online at townhalltheater.org.

OCM will stage Verdi’s “Macbeth” at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 3; Thursday, June 9; and Saturday, June 11; as well as at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 5. The cover cast will perform the complete show at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 10.

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