The Lyric’s “Macbeth” is a Stunning Pre-Halloween Tale

Blood was flowing at the opening of the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2010-2011 season the evening of Oct. 1.

Giuseppe Verdi’s powerful “Macbeth” starred the mighty American baritone Thomas Hampson in the title role and slim, sensual German soprano Nadja Michael as his fiercely ambitious partner in crime.

Sex accompanies the violence in this production as shared lust for power makes the sparks fly between Macbeth and his Lady. We could blame the witches, who actually fly around the Lyric stage, as well as crawl on their bellies like reptiles, since they incite his greed by predicting that he will become King of Scotland.

Of course, that won’t happen until the present King Duncan dies, so Macbeth, goaded by his wife, murders him. One death leads to another until she, who has does her share of killing, has gone mad and he has died in battle.

Thomas Hampson has one of the great operatic voices in the world today. He is also an exceptionally strong actor. His ambition, fear and determination are palpable. Michael is also a superb actress, whose taunts to her husband are chilling. Her vocal tone can be harsh, but her sleepwalking scene is a triumph.

Conductor Renato Palumbo led the Lyric Opera Orchestra in Verdi’s magnificent score, giving Shakespeare’s grim tale its deeply melodic underpinning.

The production, running in repertory at the Civic Opera House through Oct. 30, was directed by Barbara Gaines in her operatic debut. Her permanent home is across town at Navy Pier, where she is founder and artistic director of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and has directed more than 30 productions. Her shrewd eye for detail and deep understanding of the text gives this production exceptional dramatic power.

Set designer James Noone created walls of sheet metal that resemble the outlines of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. The coldness of the gunmetal gray construction was offset in the first act by a small candlelit room where Lady Macbeth is first seen.

The opera is sung in Italian with projected supertitles. But you don’t need words to tell you when there has been a murder. The killer’s bloody clothes say it all.

“Macbeth,” with a running time of 3 hours, will be performed through Oct. 30. For tickets, call the box office at 312-332-2244, ext. 5600, or visit

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