“Witches!” to quote Marge Simpson from one of the Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror Halloween specials. There’s a lot of witches in Phyllida Lloyd’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth from 2002 and revived for the third time. And there is a touch of the Marges about them too with the high red turbans along with the Frida Kahlo monobrow. But it all works fantastically well because the ROH chorus are in such fine form, here and throughout the production.

The black set had a vague resemblance to the 2016 Boris Godunov though rather than embossed bells, there’s a Bourneville black chocolate appearance, with a Tetris look as the panels move up and down. And black it is with the costumes with only slashes of dark blues, reds and purples for the nobility’s coronation garments. These are set against, for the most part, a stark closed set and does add to the intensity of what is a production that concentrates on the supernatural elements of the story.

The two leads are magnificent with Anna Netrebko (Lady Macbeth) overcoming a touch of nerves during her opening aria, to really grasp the character’s traits. A complicated performance of command, manipulation and vulnerability, the latter raw as she sleepwalks in a masterful sequence that deftly plays off the lady in waiting (Francesca Chiejina) and doctor (Simon Shibambu). Netrebko the perfect foil for Željjko Lučić who as Macbeth was as imposing in his performance as the character was pathetic.

Unfortunately, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo is not that convincing a Banquo looking bit stiff in parts, even when he’s not supposed to be.

The blinding gold costumes of the Macbeths and gilded cage metaphors are hardly subtle as they are presented first within the context of the nobility at the coronation, then more starkly gauche as the population starves outside, desolately looking on, the chorus extracting every emotion from ‘patri oppressa!’ There are some strange elements too such as the golden trolleys wheeled on when King Duncan like some bizarre Generation Game conveyor belt and the procession of golden phantom kings did look a touch clumsy and amdram.

But we are drawn back to the witches who are almost ever present; not a malign presence merely there to serve and oil the cogs of the destiny of the Macbeths, indeed everyone present.

From the short prelude - that must have influenced any composer looking to score a fantastic film - to the end, Antonio Pappano has a solid grip of the dynamics of the music and the cast. All told it’s a pleasingly rugged and robust performance.

Photo courtesy of Bill Cooper and the Royal Opera House

Macbeth continues 31 March, 2, 4, 7 and 10 April.

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