By Ash Cottrell
I recently managed to finish a book. I use the word ‘managed’, as the piles of weekly New Yorkers loom, untouched. Their judgemental presence weighing down on me. The book I triumphantly finished was given to me by a friend a few Christmas’ back, The Best film I never made: And other stories about a life in the Arts, by acclaimed director, Bruce Beresford. I enjoyed it. It was largely an anecdotal tale of the peaks and troughs of filmmaking in Australia and abroad. Accessible, at times salacious. In short, a great read for any cinephile, captivated by the history of the homegrown industry, particularly during its heyday.
With the aforementioned in mind, you can appreciate my excitement when I opened the playbook at the opera Tuesday night, to see that it had been directed by the man himself, Bruce Beresford. If I’d had a spare second, I probably would have known this ahead of time (it was evidently quite appropriately publicised), but it was an incredibly pleasant surprise, nonetheless. In retrospect, as I ponder the themes entrenched in Macbeth, notably, succession; murder; power and ambition, I can only surmise that a director of Beresford’s calibre and experience would revel in this Shakespearean world.
When it comes to the Bard, I’m a big Macbeth fan. In fact, this opera marks the third iteration of the tragedy that I’ve seen this year, (including Justin Kurzel’s 2015 film). The storytelling has all of the theatrical elements that have a tendency to grip me- along with some pretty high stakes of life & death. Truth be told, it was my first proper opera, and I was far from disappointed. There was plenty of drama and some pretty impressive fight choreography in the final showdown. With that said, I wanted more from the murderous scenes as a whole. Perhaps this is gratuitous of me to desire, but in both stage performances of Macbeth that I have seen this year, the killing of King Duncan in the Second Act, has happened off stage and while (in theory), this could add to the intrigue and tension, I’ve been left wanting more. Violence is a big part of Macbeth and indeed Shakespeare more broadly speaking, and in my view, only alluding to these acts detracts from the overall impact of the show. I go to the theatre hoping for a visceral reaction, particularly when the stakes are so high thematically. Melbourne Opera didn’t quite achieve this with their opening night of Macbeth, although I’m sure the intention was there.
In addition to the lack (in my mind) of gory violence, my other prominent criticism was the overwhelming absence of chemistry between Macbeth (Simon Meadows) and Lady Macbeth (Helena Dix). Story-wise, Macbeth doesn’t work without the palpable tension between the two and it truly wasn’t there. While both performers were undoubtedly talented opera singers, there was no passion between them, nor despair when their ambitious plans backfire and their mental health begins to deteriorate- a fundamental flaw of this production.
Criticisms aside, the other elements of the show were all impressive, including the set design; costumes; the graphics and cinematic projections; the heart stopping orchestral music and the angelic voices of the key cast. The show was dimly lit, which I thought was fitting for the Scottish moors and in short, this iteration of my favourite Shakespearean tragedy was a thoroughly enjoyable audience experience.
Highlight of the night? Meeting Bruce Beresford after the show, of course. And I’m pleased to report, (unlike his Shakespearean antagonists), the man is a delight.