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Photo: Monika Rittershaus


Barrie Kosky has placed Verdi’s arguably bloodiest opera in a pitch-black tunnel-like theatre set that, with a sophisticated optical illusion, appears to be infinitely deep and leads straight down to hell. Zurich Opera’s revival of the star director’s innovative and highly successful interpretation of Shakespeare’s psychological thriller holds the audience from start to finish.

The scene opens effectively with Macbeth lying motionless in the centre of the floor in a sharply cut skylight – almost covered in dead crows with torn feathers scattered everywhere.

A flash forward establishes instant suspense to the tune of Verdi’s eerie overture, which more than hints at madness under construction.

Slowly, a group of naked men and women approach, only gradually revealing themselves to be out of the ordinary as the women display both naked breasts and exposed penises!

With this sleepwalking corps of strange hermaphrodites, Kosky is on a roll.

The set design is insistently noir and establishes a clear, conceptual framework for the action, which in Kosky’s version is cut to the bone with few, repeated effects, where the psychological turmoil spreads without distracting gimmicks.

Kosky frames Macbeth as a super aesthetic chamber play with full focus on the somewhat lukewarm Macbeth and his ambitious Lady, who unrestrainedly encourages all the murders needed to secure his place on the Scottish throne.

With each murder, more and more spoilers are sprinkled.

For much of the time, The M&M’s are alone in action, placed at the front of the stage in a simple, paradoxically beautiful portrait photo lighting in a completely black room, which, with the help of panels of edge lights like in a motorway tunnel, disappears into a hellish infinity.

An extremely intelligent and consistent stage design with the only drawback being that it also becomes a bit monotonous – the eternal challenge of the austere concept.

The group of naked people return several times, and of course you’ve long since guessed that they are the witches who haunt Macbeth with their prophecies.

The witches are fabulously lit, including a sequence where a film shot of themselves is projected ‘back’ onto their naked bodies, creating a kind of vivid double exposure that I haven’t seen before.

Truly Barrie Kosky theatre magic that makes the whole menagerie wildly spooky and helps accelerate M&M’s galloping psychoses of guilt and madness.

More blood must be shed, we hear over and over again, until M&M become victims of their own evil in this gusto Shakespearean tragedy, served up with an effective, sonorous and dramatic Verdi score delivered by the Zurich Philharmonic, conducted by Daniel Squeo.

Romanian George Petean impresses in the title role, while Polish soprano Ewa Plonka as Lady Macbeth brings the house down with formidable volume and frighteningly diabolical charisma.

Another excellent production at the Zurich Opera House, one of Europe’s opera hotspots and always worth a visit.