Opera Is Back – Hooray! As For The Rude Voice That Booed: Back Atcha

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its 2021-22 season with a new David McVicar production of ‘Macbeth,’ designed by John Macfarlane, set in a Scottish chapel ruin. (Andrew Cioffi photo)

PERSPECTIVE – On September 17, Lyric Opera of Chicago came back from the long lockdown. The show was Verdi’s Macbethnewly mounted by David McVicar, with Enrique Mazzola on the podium for his first turn as only the third music director in the company’s history. The rising baritone Craig Colclough headed the cast as the thane who would be king, abetted by Sondra Radvanovsky, a local and international favorite, in her role debut as his lady. Spies of mine and several critics were over the moon.

My detailed account of the second show, had I filed one, would have been contrarian, but I wasn’t on assignment. Suffice it to say that I sat through three of Verdi’s four acts in a state of stone-cold indifference. McVicar’s hyperactive Calvinist witches sniggering over their prayer books didn’t reach me. Nor did the singers, though they elicited an occasional sign of life from the audience with a loud, gutsy finish. I was momentarily struck by the incongruously noble figure of Banquo’s assassin when he stole in on the banquet scene, dropping to one knee in his flawlessly tailored riding coat, his face smeared with blood. And there was a puppet—the apparition of the crowned child in Macbeth’s last encounter the witches—who crossed the stage on foot with awesome gravitas. Flecks of pure gold, but not much to take away.

Macduff (tenor Joshua Guerrero) mourns his slaughtered children. (Ken Howard)

None too soon, the final act began, and the refugees’ lament, “Patria oppressa,” had me gratefully close to tears. Yet the house let it fade to the sound of dead air. Happily, someone in my row intervened in the nick of time, setting off the round of applause it would have been a crime to withhold. 

Next, it was Macduff’s turn to mourn his slaughtered children. Unseen in the shadows, Joshua Guerrero launched his recit in falsetto, with a strangled sob of raw anguish like nothing I had heard before from the throat of any tenor. From that point on, for the most part, Guerrero exhibited classical style, reverting to falsetto (heroically this time) only in the climactic phrases of his aria. Will other tenors want to follow his startling precedent? I’d advise them not to, but within Guerrero’s honest and engaged performance, the blazing flourishes earned their place. For me, his contribution gave heart and soul to a performance otherwise lacking in both. Yet once again, the house seemed inclined to sit on their hands until a single spectator—the same one as before—intervened for a second time.

Then, amid the din, one loud voice booed.

Really? After the battering our world has taken? An artist steps out, doing his best, and you trash him? Others want to celebrate when you don’t, so you throw a fit?

Time to lay those barbarisms of the Old Normal to rest. Right now, thanks are in order. What’s left of our civilization may depend on it.