Gran Teatre del Liceu 2022-23 Review: Macbeth (Cast B)

Ekaterina Semenchuck, Željko Lučić,and Celso Albelo gave the audience plenty to cheer about.

By Mauricio Villa
Photo: David Ruano/Gran Teatre del Liceu

Željko Lučić’s Strong Macbeth

Serbian baritone Željko Lučić replaced Spanish bass-baritone Carlos Alvarez—who unfortunately had to cancel due to illness—in the role of Macbeth for Verdi’s eponymous opera, currently staged at Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu. Lučić has regularly performed at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, where he has given us most of his Verdian roles. Macbeth has become one of his signatures, having now performed the role in major opera houses around the world, and it really shows. He offered a magnificent characterization of the tortured, insecure, and doubtful soldier who reaches for and clings to the throne through a reign of terror and murder. He has a strong stage presence and takes us through a magnificent dramatic arc.

We experience Macbeth’s mind deteriorating and revel in his final moment of bravery and determination to fight. Lučić has a dry timbre, which makes his voice distinctive and instantly recognizable. His timbre is not particularly beautiful, and his voice has a modest volume, but it carries easily above the orchestra. He has a depurated legato when singing. This shows in the most lyrical parts of the role, such as the First Act andante, ‘Due vaticini compiuiti or sono,’ and his aria, ‘Pietá, rispetto, amore.’

But Lučić can also sound menacing, frightened, even histrionic, as we saw in his explosive outburst of emotions during the ‘dagger aria;’ when confronted by the apparition of Banquo’s ghost during the banquet in Act two; and his confrontation with the witches in Act three. He demonstrated his effortless and strong high notes by interpolating a strong high G at the end of the performance, revealing to us his stamina and proving that his voice was still fresh after a long night of singing. Only some deficiencies in his diction in the upper range marred his performance, and then only slightly. In all, Lučić is a great Macbeth.

Mezzo-Soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk Meets Verdi’s Musical Demands as Lady Macbeth

Belorussian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk played Lady Macbeth. Due to the nature of the role, which demands a strong, potent voice across the entire register, with sonorous low notes, expansive center, and top ringing high notes, a mezzo-soprano is ideal; but only if she can also manage the crazy coloratura which Verdi wrote, and can sing an exposed high D flat at the end of the night, which is an extremely high note for this type of voice. Semenchuk accomplished all that the role demanded. She was aggressive in her opening aria, ‘Vieni! T’affretta!’ with brave, constant ascensions to high B flats and high Cs, as well as strong descension to low Ds and even B naturals in chest voice during the cabaletta.

Her timbre and vibrato were even and balanced, and her intervallic jumps to high notes consequently sounded round and metallic: a considerable accomplishment, as it is often difficult for heavy voices to not sound strident due to the vocal writing that Verdi chose for this part. She managed to lighten her voice for the quick appoggiature and roulades of her first duet with Macbeth, ‘Regna il sonno su tutti,’ and the brindisi in Act two. Her interpretation of her second aria, ‘La luce langue,’ was dramatic, dark, and mysterious, coronated with a thunderous top high B natural. She used all her dramatic and vocal resources for the final ‘somnambulism’ scene: whispering, plain notes, strong low register, dynamics, diminuendos, and finishing the scene with a splendid high D flat offstage. Semenchuk portrayed the deep, emotional layers of the character while maintaining the ever-present sense of evil and domination, creating a strong, dictatorial woman.

Short Roles, Big Sound

Spanish-Menorcan bass-baritone Simón Orfila, after a long career centered around Mozart and bel canto, is moving slowly towards the Verdian repertoire. After having performed Felipe II in Don Carlo, he debuted for the Gran Teatro del Liceu staging of “Macbeth,” the short but dramatically important role of Banquo. His voice has grown in volume, and his vibrato has expanded. His voice, therefore, has the vocal weight needed for this role. Singing mostly in ensemble, his voice is always present. His interpretation of his single aria, ‘Come dal ciel precipita,’ was a lesson in good singing, showing his bel canto origins with astonishingly long and fluid legato singing, as well as his ability to control the volume of his voice to sing piano and mezza voce, combined with strong high Ds and Es. He acted with truth and conviction, drawing on his own evident resources in the face of the production’s non-existent staging, and gave dignity to the character.

It was a luxury that a tenor the caliber of Spanish Celso Albelo, who has been singing leading tenor roles in all the major opera houses for years, agreed to sing the small and plain role of Macduff—though this character is essential for the plot, his character in the opera is not dramatically developed. Albelo has largely sung bel canto and French repertoire, and it showed in his magnificent interpretation of his aria, ‘Ah! La paterna mano.’ The audience was treated to his fiato and legato singing, continuous contrasting between fortes and pianos, attention to every single dynamic of the score, and awesome security singing in the passagio zone, even in mezza voce or when performing a diminuendo.

When Albelo sings, it seems to sound so easy and natural—but it is not! His metallic, dark voice has an amazing projection, and his voice is, therefore, always present in ensembles. Even when he sang alongside Fabián Lara, the Mexican tenor who played Malcolm, and the whole choir and orchestra in forte, in ‘La patria tradita…’ his voice was clearly present. His voice only expands and grows in his upper range. This is merely anecdotic, as interpolated high notes in and of themselves do not necessarily win a tenor a good performance. But using his bel canto background and his extensive register, Albelo produced a top, ringing high D flat at the end of Act One, a high C at the end of the scene with Lara and the choir in Act four, and an impossible high D to conclude the opera.

A splendid Cast B, with the expert Verdian performances of Željko Lučić and Ekaterina Semenchuk in the leading roles and the amazing role debuts of Simón Orfila and Celso Albelo in the respective roles of Banquo and Macduff.


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