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Ernest Bloch's Macbeth

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Every few years one of Shakespeare’s plays seems to capture the creative zeitgeist, and numerous productions and adaptations appear independently of each other. And, while it’s true that MACBETH has never suffered from being unperformed or out of favor, the Scottish play has definitely seen a number of high profile productions over the past couple of years. On Broadway, Alan Cumming is currently starring as the Thane in an essentially one-man version of the play, Kenneth Branagh is returning to the London stage in a more traditional production, and the long-running SLEEP NO MORE is an environmental theatre experience based on characters and elements from the play.

The ever resourceful Long Beach Opera found its own way to tap into Macbeth Mania by mounting the first professional American production of Ernest Bloch’s MACBETH. Bloch’s only opera was first performed at the Opera Comique in 1910 where, though it attracted some admirers, it was savaged by the critics. Its performance history has been spotty since that initial disappointment, but interest in the piece has deservedly grown in recent years.

Bloch’s score is richly textured and varied with, not surprisingly for the era of its composition, echoes of Wagner and Debussy. But it is in psychological acuity that the music truly triumphs. Bloch finds the key to musicalizing the motivations and, especially, the love shared by Lord and Lady Macbeth. Without glamorizing their murderous deeds, he humanizes both characters.

Artistic and production director, Andreas Mitisek, sought out another unconventional venue for his concept. A room in San Pedro’s World Cruise Center, located  in the shadow of the USS Iowa, houses the long wooden table for the pivotal banquet scene in which Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost. Of course the table easily stands in for the blasted heath, the castle courtyard, and even the Macbeths’ bedroom. The audience is seated on both sides of the table, pressed in uncomfortably close-- the effect being the audience as voyeur. Or, perhaps, as co-conspirator.

Mitisek carefully pruned the three act original down to its essentials, bringing the running time to less than two hours. He also condensed the cast, using only the three wtches and two male singers, who played the remaining roles. This only serves to tighten the focus on the fascinating machinations of the two principals.

And what a pair they are blessed with as Lord and Lady M. Nmon Ford’s Macbeth is a riveting presence with matinee idol looks, a noble bearing, and a richly textured and powerful sound. Never offstage, he delivers lucid and detailed acting along with seemingly limitless vocal resources in a marathon performance. Suzan Hanson has long and deservedly been a mainstay of LBO and her forceful, but enticing, Lady Macbeth is another coup in her catalog of artfully delineated and memorable characters sung for the company.

The supporting cast all sport make-up courtesy of THE WALKING DEAD, but that doesn't weaken their performances. Ariel Pisturino, Danielle Marcelle Bond and Nandani

Sinha sing with eerie rigor while squirming and twitching like Bedlam inmates. Doug Jones brings his warm tenor to an intelligently sung Banquo, along with several other characters, while Robin Buck makes the most of Macduff and a Murderer. The entire cast sings with such clean English diction that supertitles are completely expendable.

In an adjoining room, Conductor Benjamin Makino marshals the forces of the orchestra and a chorus. Though the distance is a liability, Makino conjures an evocative performance of this little heard score.

Dan Weingarten’s lighting is blunt and effective-- perfectly in sync with Mitisek’s directorial concept. In fact, all of Mitisek’s artistic decisions pay off in an effective and compelling production which makes an excellent case for the opera (at least in this redaction) as a stage-worthy alternate for the Verdi version.

Long Beach Opera at the Port of L.A.  6/15 – 6/23,2013   www.longbeachopera.org

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.