A very strange thing happened at the Colón recently. In less than 24 hours a South African troupe presented a terrible travesty of Verdi´s "Macbeth" as part of the FIBA (Festival Internacional de Buenos Aires). Performances on Sunday at 5 pm and –an absolute first for the house- Monday at 1 pm! An A plus for stamina and good vocal training, at least for the murdering couple.
Darío Lopérfido is currently the czar of both the Colón and the FIBA, so he has full responsibility for this show. His choice confirms a lot about him: he is still very much a man of the Centro Cultural Rojas, which dealt and deals with the sort of extreme avantgarde that is so out that´s in. Mind you, it´s an international phenomenon: Damien Hirst´s shark in formol belongs to the same sort of thinking. I hate it, others think it ´s the most. And I hated this "Macbeth".
The only programme we were given was a small book with the complete FIBA; just one page covers this "Macbeth". To be sure, Lopérfido isn´t alone in his promotion of what for him (he said it in an interview) is a marvelous production by Brett Bailey (Artistic Director of Third World Bunfight, a South African outfit). It is co-produced by five institutions, among them London´s Barbican and the Wiener Festwochen (Viennese Festival Weeks), no less. And the producers are the EU Cultural fund and the National Lottery Distribution Fund of South Africa.
"A group of Congolese refugees finds a trunk full of scores, costumes and vinyl records of Verdi´s ´Macbeth´. This becomes the parting shot and catalyst for a dramatic retelling of Shakespeare´s tale with the Macbeths as warlords, the three sisters (witches) as double-crossing businesswomen and Dunsinane as the great Lakes Region of Central Africa".
Fine, but how did they do it? Some descriptions are in order. First: a good deal of the relevant Verdi music, including most arias, are sung in Italian with Piave´s original libretto. Second: the orchestral arrangement by Fabrizio Cassol is a bloody mess; the instrumentation sounds awful: string quintet, three woodwinds, trumpet, trombone and uncredited percussion to give it a Congolese touch. With these same players a good arranger could have made something audible, but what I heard was consistently ugly.
Third: the also uncredited pseudo-translation was an insult to the Colón: sorry, readers, I will have to be explicit for otherwise my complaint would seem too pat. In what is a unique case of schizophrenia, the singers gave us Piave, and the supertitles had such expressions as " boludo, huevón, me cagaron". As the work originates in South Africa, I suppose that in such places as the Barbican the supertitles will be equally schizoid but in the English equivalents or similar, and that such is the policy of Bailey as producer. Why he does this is beyond me.
Fourth: another constant policy was to have detailed political accounts of human disasters in Congo expressed in long written tirades reproduced in the principal screen and two other screens placed at both sides of the central element of the staging, a big platform. Fifth: a constant undercurrent of gross satire is seen throughout: Macbeth and his "Lady" are obese people clad in ridiculous African kitsch; dramatic episodes are taken as jokes, such as the murder of Banquo by the paid assassins (who by their black glasses and fatigues seem a masquerade of African dictators´ paramilitaries).
Sixth: a personal reminiscence: when in 1998 I asked Leo Nucci to accept doing Macbeth´s death with Verdi´s music from the first version of"Macbeth", he refused; I thought (still do) that it should be added to the revision. I had the agreeable surprise that such a logical dramatic climax was adopted in this travesty! Seventh: on the left side of the stage were the singers of the minichorus; curiously, the vocal arrangements (presumably also by Cassol) were beautiful and although basically Verdian had a feeling of Negro Spirituals.
Eighth: The singers were admirable and I suppose they could sing the original Verdi in Capetown, which has an important opera company ( the one that will visit us next year with "Porgy and Bess"). Their looks will make them absurd if they sang the original in London, but they sure can sing. Owen Metsileng (Macbeth) is a robust baritone of fine timbre capable of sensitive phrasing and "piano" singing. Nobulunko Mngxekeza (pronounce that if you can!) was a splendid Lady, with an ample register that even managed the risky top C sharp at the end of the Somnanbulism scene (although as staged it doesn´t look like one) but also with strong lows. A true bass as Banquo (Otto Maidi) and an excellent seven-voice minichoir completed the vocal side, by far the best thing, the saving grace of the matinée (I went on Monday).
Nineth: as far as I could make it, the intent of Bailey (producer, stage and costume designer) was to put in evidence thorugh satire the typical murderous tyrants of Central Africa and particularly the Congo (where the Civil War goes on unnoticed by the West), as well as to stress the unholy matrimony with Western investors. It´s a valid point but I´m sorry that to do that he didn´t take typical African materials instead of doing a grotesque ridiculisation of Verdi´s masterpiece.
For Buenos Aires Herald