Ernest Bloch's 'Macbeth' - Long Beach Orchestra - June 22, 2013
By: Greggory Moore
Keith Ian Polakoff
A few years ago, Long Beach Opera staged Ricky Ian Gordon's Orpheus and Euridice at the Belmont Shore Olympic Pool. It was an example of how well even traditional art can work in an unorthodox space. Unfortunately, LBO has no such success with putting on Ernest Bloch's Macbeth in the Cruise Terminal at the Port of Los Angeles. Erecting risers on either side of a long wooden table--literally the only bit of scenery--having half the audience in more direct sightline than the performers is probably asking for too much suspension of disbelief, particularly as there is very little in the way of costuming or blocking to draw you into the action. In fact, the entire show feels more like a preview performance at a fundraiser than a full-blown production.
Except that it lasts 110 minutes. Unfortunately, that time does not fly by, as Bloch's score--far more traditional than the usual, progressive LBO fare--is an unrelenting sonic landscape peopled with too much recitative and melody lines that feel (to my untrained ear, at least) simply laid atop the score of a '20s German film about some dark nothing in particular.
But Macbeth breaks out of this rut every time the choir fires up. First making an aural appearance as Duncan's murder is discovered (I trust "the Scottish play" is famous enough that no one needs a synopsis or will complain about spoilers), Bloch's music suddenly soars and is kept aloft by the 80-voice Camerata Singers of Long Beach. It's a real shame that they, along with the entire orchestra (great as usual), are way off to one side of the audience, because it is truly a missed opportunity not to have their fabulous voices erupt binaurally. It probably wasn't logistically feasible to achieve this--another reason why this space was a poor choice.
There are several curious conceptual shortcomings afoot. For example, when Lady Macbeth (Suzan Hanson, giving a solid performance) returns from the chamber of the murdered king, she's got blood on her hands, even wiping them. Except that Hanson's hands are spotless, which really undercuts her character's most famous moment later in the play. Then there's a sex scene between Lady Macbeth and her hubby (Nmon Ford, with a voice is well-suited to the role) where he gets a bit abusive with her. There's no apparent logic for it, and you're distracted for the next minute or two wondering what that was all about.
Because the production design is so minimal and there is not a single supernumerary to be found, the whole Birnam Wood bit is pure exposition, which isn't too interesting, even though the choir sounds damn good. And then comes just about the most anticlimactic ending possible. It's a fitting finale to a production that never really works. Maybe Long Beach Opera just isn't accustomed to developing a piece this traditional, because the inspiration just isn't there.