Now, I like lying on the sofa in my pyjamas eating fish finger butties (extra ketchup please) as much as the next person. And often, after a day at work pontificating in pretentious fashion about literature, this is all I want to do, perhaps with a few crisps thrown in for good measure - it takes quite a lot to get me out the house and into Manchester on a week night. Fortunately, one of those things is Opera North, that estimable company based just across the Pennines in Leeds, and who have yet to put on a duff performance (if you hang around, I can probably work that up into a really great "MacDUFF" joke). Last night they brought Verdi's Macbeth to The Lowry, and it was probably my favourite Opera North performance yet - even perhaps eclipsing my own impassioned delivery of Shakespeare's version to somewhat less-impassioned GCSE students.
This was a fairly traditional staging by Opera North's standards - they are consistently sexy and innovative in their performances, but this time the astonishing quality of the soloists and the sheer power and beauty of Verdi's compositions were allowed to shine through unencumbered by frippery. The cast was uniformly excellent, with Bela Perencz convincing in the lead role - note perfect right to the end and veering between guilt-stricken and power-crazed - and Kelly Cae Hogan a pleasing combination of ambition and blouse-ripping hotness. Indeed, the sexual nature of their partnership is emphasised as they celebrate their murderous deeds in the marital bed that had earlier served as the site of King Duncan's slaughter, before being pushed off-stage by the ever-present witches.
The re-imagining of the witches as three household servants is inspired; at first, floor-scrubbing skivvies doesn't seem a frightening enough guise for these malevolent souls (no green faces; no warty noses), but it actually means they are always there, lurking within the castle walls, keeping an eye on procedings as the Macbeths career helplessly down the path they have predicted, casting their shadows literally and metaphorically over the stage at almost all times. Lighting is well-used throughout - the trees that later form the boughs of Birnham Wood marching on the castle cast their broomstick-like shadows and create a particularly menacing atmosphere when Banquo and his young son are attacked in a scene that genuinely had me reaching for my fair companion's hand. And we BOTH wiped away a surreptitious tear when Macduff, played by a marvellous Jung Soo Tun, tunefully swore vengeance on his dead children in a powerful solo.
Opera North are ALWAYS good. But this is the first time I've ever been to the theatre after work and not once looked at my watch - we were both utterly captivated from start to finish, and left feeling genuinely emotionally affected. It's on again tomorrow (Saturday 8th March) and if you can get a ticket then GO - otherwise, Opera North will be back in Manchester in May with La Boheme, and I for one can't wait.