Fiat nox perpetua: a haunting bloodstained gothic opera
He is said to be post-tonal and post-atonal as well. Irresistibly visual (if not fatal) attraction and refined musical power do characterise the world creation recently presented at La Monnaie. It is “Macbeth Underworld”, the last opera composed by Pascal Dusapin. There was no exit. No celestial routes were offered to the lost souls of Macbeth and his lady, such as those we see in the ‘first circle’ of Inferno in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Just the plain truth: « All hope abandon ye who enter here», turned into a Sisyphe myth staged by French director Thomas Jolly, propelled to stardom for his Shakespeare productions.
Indeed, Frederic Boyer’s English libretto takes us in the midst of the damned, revisiting the story of Macbeth’s couple through eight frightful tableaux. Shakespeare’s play has no more substance than that of a spectre of a play. We are invited to scrutinize the expiratory phase of Shakespeare’s heroes, who are forever doomed by murder and their fascination for power. Shall we take the opportunity to ponder on our own world’s steadfast deterioration that keeps bypassing all existing laws, and start questioning its values? Austrian baritone Georg Nigl takes up the tailormade role of Macbeth. Pascal Dusapin knew immediately that he wanted Georg Nigl for the title role, commenting, « For Macbeth himself, it was all much more straightforward. I wanted Georg Nigl. It is my fifth production with him and he can take on anything, from incredible expressiveness through tenderness to absolute folly. The short description on his score just says ‘Macbeth est fou’ – Macbeth is mad. He doesn’t need more than that.”
The set is a place of woe and eternal pain guarded by a Shakespearian Charon, the Porter, who seemed to be the only one endowed with humour and common sense. The other figure that does not act madly was Hecate, the Goddess of Destiny, sung by the same Graham Clark, whose brief ominous address to the Weird Sisters opened the play: “You make fools understand, that out of lies rises a truth.” A really Orwellian theme. She pitied the doomed couple: “Look now his shoulders march against the dark/ And his queen now, the foul fairy heartless Queen. He loves her and she loves him. Look! They come back on stage again. Is it something we see again and again /The silent things they did.” The three sisters, the living spirits that roamed nearly every scene, were magnificently interpreted by breathtaking trio Ekaterina Lekhina, Lilly Jørstad and Christel Loetzsch. They instilled their poison with devilish perfidy, often mixing their prolonged witch yelping with the voices of women choirs, prepared by Martino Faggiani and Alberto Moro.
Thus, the opera unfolded like a fascinating evil nightmare whereby “Foul is beauty” Yes! And we fell in the trap, the audience was caught and never bored, all eyes and ears wide open to the production prodigies! Inverted swift Bible references such as “A murderer is born!” paved the way to Hell. The music developed with lots of changing tempi, beastly cries, children whining, orchestral tidal waves, unexpected punctuation, eerie switchovers, blade rustling (Pieter Mellaerts) and hushed expectancy. Violin Medieval Scottish music intermingled with tambourines, various Tibetan bells and other percussion instruments, church organ and impressive sound effects. La Monnaie’s potent orchestra was under the very skilled direction of Alain Altinoglu, who once more demonstrated his intense dramatic flair. A persistently sweet archlute (Christian Rivet) accompanied every move of Lady Macbeth sung by very expressive mezzo-soprano Sophie Marilley. Pascal Dusapin said, « Judi Dench was a great model for the scene in which Lady Macbeth washes her hands. The rhythm of her words is spot-on. I copied them out and used them in Macbeth Underworld.” All this was matched with Antoine Travert’s resplendent light effects, the décor being regularly scarred with red electric lines that seemed to mock a sky map or torture wounds.
A definite sense of creativity kept emerging from the dark and spectral ambience made up by spectacular dead trees and the remnants of an abandoned decaying castle installed on the revolving set. The symbolical and romantic décor was designed by Bruno De Lavenère, who finally transformed the set into the black-flamed furnace of Hell. Impressive Bass Kristinn Sigmundsson, the Ghost who sang all the victims of Macbeth kept walking around the scene, a dagger stuck in the back, exuding revenge and dark powerful tones. Fiat nox aeterna! Unless… the Child comes and saves it all! The phantom that stabs Macbeth at the end and will hopefully start a new world… Or the one that lady Macbeth had lost in early infancy. Both come with such a relief in this dark circular time…. He is sung with perfect purity and innocence by Naomi Tapiola and Elyne Maillard. Both budding talents selected from la Monnaie’s children choir.
Dominique-Hélène Lemaire (Arts et Lettres)
Conductor: ALAIN ALTINOGLU
Director: THOMAS JOLLY
Direction collaborator: ALEXANDRE DAIN
Set design: BRUNO DE LAVENÈRE
Lighting: ANTOINE TRAVERT
Costumes: SYLVETTE DEQUEST
Dramaturgy : KATJA KRÜGER
Chorus Masters : MARTINO FAGGIANI, ALBERTO MORO
Lady Macbeth : MAGDALENA KOŽENÁ, SOPHIE MARILLEY (22.09 & 3.10)
Macbeth : GEORG NIGL
Three Weird Sisters : EKATERINA LEKHINA, LILLY JØRSTAD, CHRISTEL LOETZSCH
Ghost: KRISTINN SIGMUNDSSON
Porter: GRAHAM CLARK
Archiluth: CHRISTIAN RIVET
Child :ELYNE MAILLARD, NAOMI TAPIOLA
Crédit photos: « Macbeth underworld » de Pascal Dusapin m e s Thomas Jolly – © Baus
La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra and Women‘s Chorus
Production LA MONNAIE | DE MUNT
Co-production OPÉRA COMIQUE (PARIS), OPÉRA DE ROUEN NORMANDIE