Maryland Lyric Opera opens season with mixed “Macbeth” and new conductor

Sat Sep 24, 2022 at 12:38 pm
Photo of Lester Lynch by Julian Thomas

Baritone Lester Lynch starred in Maryland Lyric Opera’s Macbeth Friday night at Strathmore. Photo: Julian Thomas

Maryland Lyric Opera presented an exceptionally fine stretch of three operas for last year’s half-season, emerging revitalized from the pandemic shutdowns. This growing regional company seemed much less steady on its feet at its rocky season opener Friday night. A semi-staged performance of Verdi’s Macbeth in the Music Center at Strathmore inaugurated a season entirely devoted to the celebrated Italian composer.

A change at the podium marked this new season, as Louis Salemno is no longer serving as the company’s music director. According to general manager Matthew Woorman, Maryland Lyric Opera and Salemno “were unable to reach a new contractual agreement and have decided to go their separate ways.” Joseph Colaneri, music director of Glimmerglass Opera since 2013, took the baton for this first local performance of Macbeth since Washington National Opera’s in 2007.

Baritone Lester Lynch sang the title role with imperious authority, providing plenty of vocal swagger as the scheming and murderous thane. His silken legato and command of soft registers also made the character’s self-doubts and tortured regret just as believable. This more than justified the reinstatement of the Act IV aria  “Mal per me che m’affidai,” which Verdi cut from his original 1847 score, into this performance of the 1865 revision.

As Lady Macbeth, soprano Jill Gardner struggled all evening long with some of the role’s extreme demands. Although she often had acidic spite in the upper and lower range, her voice sometimes lacked power in the middle. Florid runs, like those in the Act II brindisi, were indistinct. Her voice practically vanished at some crucial points, where the top was exposed, in both “La luce langue” in Act II and at the end of the mad scene in Act IV.

Andrea Silvestrelli made an imposing Banco, his blustery bass perfectly communicating the horror after Duncan’s murder at the end of Act I. Tenor Yi Li gave a poignant edge to the role of Macduff, especially his moving Act IV aria “Ah, la paterna mano,” with its pleading vocal line. His subsequent scene with Mauricio Miranda’s Malcolm was less successful, destabilized by some rhythmic uncertainty, which Colaneri righted more than once. Soprano Manli Deng’s demure Lady-in-Waiting rounded out the fine unaccompanied sextet in the Act I finale.

The Maryland Lyric Opera chorus, slightly fewer in number than in last season’s operas, still excelled in the opera’s extensive group scenes, capably prepared by chorus master Husan Park. The chorus of the Scottish refugees, “Patria oppressa”  in Act IV, was the highlight it should be, both sensitive and towering in volume. The orchestra underscored this music’s plaintive qualities, especially in the weeping oboe lines.

The women of the chorus cackled and howled quite effectively in the witches’ scenes, given an eerie presence by Verdi’s sure dramatic sense. The offstage banda of eleven musicians added an otherworldly woodwind presence in the Act III apparition scene. Masked actors entered the stage space to confront Macbeth, while members of the chorus sang the vocal lines of the spirits from the balcony above, their voices transformed by bullhorns held to their mouths. The orchestra’s powerful brass section added considerable force to the loudest scenes, anchored by four horns, three trombones, and cimbasso.

At the podium Colaneri led with effective gestures, marshaling the large forces with a cool head even in the most complex textures. His interpretation could have been more decisive, with some tempos speeding up or settling into place after initial uncertainty. David Gately directed some bare-bones stage movements in this concert production with no costumes or set pieces. Stuart Duke’s lighting added moody colors and the occasional flash of lightning.

Macbeth will be repeated 2 p.m. Sunday in the Music Center at Strathmore.

One Response to “Maryland Lyric Opera opens season with mixed “Macbeth” and new conductor”

  1. Posted Sep 25, 2022 at 1:41 pm by Jo Anne Carey

    We are saddened to hear the news about Maestro Louis Salemno’s departure from the Maryland Lyric Opera Company. We have immensely enjoyed his expertise in conducting numerous operas over the years.

    We wish him well in all of his future endeavors.

    Jo Anne Carey & Ricardo Edwards,
    Diehard fans of MDLO

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