Simply Shakespeare

Independent Opera Company — Verdi’s ‘Macbeth’
Sunday, June 16, 2013

2013-06-16_barskayaWhen Galina Barskaya (right) started Independent Opera Company in 2012, there was instant buzzing among local singers.  Opera companies are more likely to be started by singers or conductors than those more likely known for their work at the piano.  But it was and is Barskaya’s combined reputation for being a phenomenal pianist and consummate musician as well as such a nice person that got people so excited about working with her.  One of our reviewers covered IOC’s December/January production of Amahl and the Night Visitors here, but this was my first time attending one of their events.  I’m so glad to learn what the fuss is all about.

Chorus members (in this performance) Cathleen Rowland and Kyrian Corona.

Verdi’s Macbeth seems to be an impossible challenge for a small company, primarily for musical reasons:  a thick orchestral score, roles that test the limits of tessitura and a key dramatic function for the chorus are often beyond the capabilities of the small budget.  (Or, as Galina describes their current status with her characteristic and thickly accented charm, “Not even shoestring — more like button!”)  But this fledgling troupe has made it work, including all the engaging drama required, by putting spot-on casting and some clever compromises to good use.

NOTE:  Listers are indicated by an asterisk (*).  This show was double-cast, so we did not see all of the performers involved in this production.  For a complete cast list and schedule of appearances, contact IOC or check their website.

Let’s start with the witches, as every Macbeth must:  The duly terrible trio of Jessica Gonzalez-Rodriguez, Jennifer Lindsay and Christie Lynn Lawrence* was craven and creepy, and sang with full, rich voices.  Of the three, Lindsay is the newest to opera, and but she shows great promise, and we look forward to seeing more of her.  Gonzalez-Rodriguez made her teacher (Dr. David Connors, in the next seat) very proud, and rightfully so: warm tones and a lyrical upper range showed her voice to be flexible and easy to listen to.  Lawrence is an established performer, and her voice is well-suited to this role, and really shone: she made it sound easy, where we know it isn’t.

The performers were accompanied by piano and string quartet, with Barskaya at the keyboard.  There is no doubt that Galina herself is the heart and soul of this production, led by the passion she expresses for Verdi’s work, and executed with astounding skill and feverish intensity as she works her way through the dense and difficult orchestral reduction.

Natalie Mann as Lady Macbeth:  It's good to be queen...
Natalie Mann as Lady Macbeth: It’s good to be queen…

The leads, Macbeth and his Lady, were played by Michael Blinco and Natalie Mann*, who are both so secure in their parts, and so good together, that they could take these roles tomorrow to almost any stage.  Characterized by greed and a hunger for power that leads to murder and madness, the “she wears the pants” dynamic played well between the pair, revealing shades of both intent and weakness in the characters that eventually leave both undone.  It’s a pleasure to see such masterful work in a regional production.

The chorus and several of the smaller parts are played mostly by six men and six women, and the men, in particular, created a surprisingly strong sound with a great deal of musicality.  It was a good fit for an intimate space, and director Scott Blois* wisely kept the staging very simple, in order to manage so number of bodies in what might equal an average dining room.

Terry Welborn, as Banco; James Salazar, as Macduff; and Victoria Graves, as the lady-in-waiting, all showed well-developed voices and good craft in their relatively small parts.  As we witnessed in the previous afternoon’s Pagliacci, Welborn’s considerable gift for acting sets him apart, and he’s a pleasure to watch as well as to hear.

There is one more performance of this Macbeth, taking place this Sunday, June 30:  grab your tartan and get there.  (Leave the knives at home:  they have that covered.)

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