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Opera Tampa wraps up season with a brooding, richly sung 'Macbeth'

Mark Rucker and Jill Gardner play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in Opera Tampa's 'Macbeth,' at the Straz Center on April 13 and 15, 2018. Courtesy of the Straz Center.
Published Apr. 14, 2018

TAMPA — Opera Tampa brings its season to an end with a darkly sensuous Macbeth, Giuseppe Verdi's take on Shakespeare's play. It's a job well done.

Companies do not perform Macbeth nearly as often as established warhorses. Since January 2017, the show has been performed 208 times worldwide, according to operabase, an opera database. The curtain has opened on La Boheme 1,309 times during the same period, and 1,425 on La Traviata. Language, translated and formatted for a libretto, might play a role in the disparity. This is not an operatic version of Shakespeare's play. (For example, Macbeth's words "Horrible sight! For now I see 'tis true; For the blood-boltered Banquo smiles upon me .?.?." becomes, "Ah, horrible vision. Terror!")

Nonetheless, Verdi adds a dimension comparable to Shakespeare's. In this production, the arias and a strong chorus establish a musical dimension to the mood, adding depth to ruminations about murder and treachery.

The make-or-break factor in this show are the two leads, Mark Rucker and Jill Gardner, who fortunately fall squarely onto the "make" side of the ledger. Baritone Rucker has enjoyed a long career. His vibrato might not be quite as taut as it was 20 years ago, but it's very close. To that richness and power he adds a fullness to the character not often seen in opera.

Gardner has created a Lady Macbeth who exudes strength and commitment, then vulnerability as malevolence meets its end. The pair combine in an unforgettable duet which translates to, "Hour of death and of vengeance."

The set is inventive and somewhat odd. Performers on a large portion of the stage stand on an angled disc, which allows for scene changes in an abstract way, aided by background projections suggesting forests, banquet halls or castles. The elements come together in the witches' scenes, when it rotates amid mist and incantations around a fire.

Tenor Cesar Sanchez contributed indispensably as Macduff. Kudos for going the extra mile go to baritones Tyler Putnam and David Cushing, who performed the role of Banquo. It's confusing, but here goes: Cushing, who was cast in the role, fell ill Friday. Normally the role would be handed over to Putnam, the cover. But because Cushing's image had already been shot for Macbeth's nightmare reverie of the slain Banquo, Cushing played the role on stage and lip-synched the music. Putnam sang the role from the orchestra pit, and did so with a lovely dark color and feeling.

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

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