Is this a dagger I see before me?

�Macbeth� brings sound and fury to the Dallas Opera�

BY TERRY MATHEWS | News-Telegram Arts Editor

Nov 12, 2007 - “Death by Diva,” the 2007-2008 Dallas Opera season began Friday night with one of the most dramatic, and certainly the deadliest diva of all time – Lady Macbeth.

Photo By Karen Almond,The Dallas Opera

Lady Macbeth (Tatiana Serjan) admonishes Macbeth (Alberto Gazale) to come to his senses during a royal banquet in Act II, Scene 3 of Giuseppe Verdi’s rendition of Shakespeare’s tale of blind ambition run amok. 

Giuseppe Verdi wrote his opera based on William Shakespeare's tale of a Scottish nobleman pushed to the brink by his ambitious and amoral spouse. But make no mistake. The spotlight belongs to the lady. 

Macbeth is no more than the means to an end to the ruthless woman who will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

Russian soprano Tatiana Serjan is cast as the woman driven to murder and madness by her lust for power.

Although she is making her American Stage debut in Dallas, Serjan is no stranger to the world of high drama divas. She's sung lead roles in Don Giovanni, Tosca, and La bohème. She has also starred as Lady Macbeth on the stages of Turin, Athens, Palermo, Madrid, Bologna, and Trieste.

Serjan is stunning, both physically and vocally. She is in total command of the stark stage, her voice staying rich and powerful, avoiding the temptation to shriek, like some lesser Lady Macbeths. 

Serjan was particularly effective during her aria in Act II, Scene 3, sometimes called “the drinking song.” The Macbeths are hosting a royal banquet to mark their crowning as the King and Queen of Scotland.

As the party begins, Lady Macbeth urges her guests to drink and be merry in this place, where love abounds and all should live in harmony. Serjan's voice is pure sweetness and light, as she masks her role in the murder and may-hem that engulf Scotland.

Photo By Karen Almond,The Dallas Opera

Russian soprano Tatiana Serjan made an impressive  American  Stage debut as the ruthless Lady Macbeth in Verdi’s classic opera, now playing on the Dallas Opera stage. 

All seems well until Banquo's ghost, recently killed by orders of the king, strolls through the banquet hall, driving Macbeth out of his mind.

No one but Macbeth can see the ghost, so his machinations and subsequent collapse confuse his guests and infuriate his wife.

In an attempt to save the evening, she repeats her call to eat, drink and be merry, but this time, her voice is so full of calculated cunning, it causes the blood run cold.

Serjan makes the transformation from sweetness to shrew without so much as a bat of an eyelash. Impressive.

She delivers such a powerful performance that you have to almost feel bad for Italian baritone Alberto Gazale, who spends the evening watching his leading lady act and sing circles around him.

Gazale is easy on the eyes and cuts a fine figure on the stark, sterile stage designed by Robert Israel. He postures well and, if he weren't cast opposite such a strong soprano, this review might be all about him.

Whether Gazale chooses to play second fiddle to Serjan is not known. Other Macbeths have been able to stand toe to toe with their ladies. (In the most recent production by the Metropolitan Opera, Zeljko Lucic got all the raves, while Maria Guleghina's lackluster performance was panned by the critics.)

It is only after Lady Macbeth's death that Gazale's performance finally blossoms. He delivers a mournful, moving final aria that gives a glimpse of potential vocal brilliance.

While Macbeth is basically a two-person show, two supporting performances stood out.

Bass Eric Halfvarson probably had to rein in his pipes so as not to over-shadow Gazale in their scenes together. When Halfvarson's alone on the stage, he powers through his part like a freight train. Not that his performance was heavy; he was just that strong.

Tenor Brandon Jovanovich was the vocal surprise of the evening. Although he didn't have much time in the spotlight, he made every second count as Macduff, Macbeth's main rival. His performance was fueled by pathos, patriotism and, finally, revenge.

While the principal singers were incredible and the orchestra, led by conductor and the opera's musical director Graeme Jenkins, was remarkable, the performance was not without its problems.

The stage was bleak and clunky. Everything looked like stainless steel. Entrances were made through garage-door like squares on either side of the stage. There was a second story balcony, obviously intended as a vehicle for the chorus, but it wasn't laid out or lit effectively.

But, it was the witches who really fell short of their task. 

The witches are the back-bone of Shakespeare's play. Macbeth looks to them and their supernatural powers to guide him to the throne of Scotland. 

When they promise that “man born of woman” can never harm him, he believes he's invincible.

While Shakespeare used only three witches in his play, Verdi needed a full chorus of females to make the necessary dramatic vocal impact.

The number of witches on the stage is not the problem. It's how they're dressed that misses the mark. Instead of serving as a vehicle to move the drama along, they stop it dead in its tracks. 

Witches should look like hags. They should have wild hair, ragged clothes and long, dirty fingernails. They should scare the beejesus out of us with their presence.

These witches were benign and powerless. 

The women were dressed in either all black, like widows, with strange masks, or they were in all white, like brides, complete with ridiculous tulle veils covering their faces, impeding their ability to move around and certainly inhibiting their vocal performances. 

That many women in full voice should have blown the audience out of the hall. Instead, they were muted, and their phrasings werer hard to follow.

Not all is lost on the physical side of the production, however. The costumes are gorgeous and there is an effective change of scenery during Lady Macbeth's mad scene, adding another dimension to the opera's most dramatic moment.

As Lady Macbeth, Tatiana Serjan, sets the standard for the season's theme, “Death by Diva.” She'll be a tough act to follow. 

Macbeth will be presented again on Wednesday, Nov. 14 and Friday, Nov. 16, at 7:30 p.m. at State Fair Music Hall.

On Sat., Nov. 17, the opera will host a 50th Anniversary Concert and Gala, Bravo 50! at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in the Dallas arts district.

Renée Fleming, one of the world’s most sought after sopranos, will be the gala’s featured guest, along with jazz trumpeter Chris Botti.  

Tickets for the concert and gala range from $85 to $225.

Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow, the second production of the season, opens Friday, Nov. 30.

Salome, by Richard Strauss, opens Friday, Feb. 1, 2008.

George Gershwin's classic opera Porgy and Bess opens Friday, Feb. 22, 2008.

The season's finale, Giacomo Puccini's dramatic Tosca, opens Friday, March 6, 2008.

Opera tickets range from $25 to $199. Call 214-443-1000 or log onto the opera's website at www.dallasopera.com for more information.

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