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New, scary, and wonderful: Macbeth comes to Jubilee for 50th anniversary of Calgary Opera

Macbeth, the timeless story of murder and betrayal, intrigue and insanity, and ghost’s of one’s own actions is coming to the Southern Jubilee Auditorium in April.

The production is capping off Calgary Opera’s golden anniversary in high style, with debut Calgary Opera performances by internationally acclaimed performers Giuseppe Altomare and Vittoria Yeo.

Giuseppe Verdi’s classic take on Macbeth is being combined with highly stylized sets and lighting, and the latest in stage holographic technology to create a production that director Rachel Peake has called “new, scary, and wonderful.”

“You’re not allowed to say Macbeth in a theatre, because the magic that the witches used is apparently based on real black arts. So there’s a real history of the real and the theatrical blending over in terms of the scary themes of the play,” said Peake.

“Then the idea behind the piece is to use holograms to play into the ghosts and apparitions that happen in the piece… so we’re able to actually have characters appear and disappear, fly, and do all sorts of things that normally we would not be able to do on stage.”

She said that has given the production the ability to really lean into the darker side of Macbeth, and to emphasize elements that would be new and different for audiences.

Among those is the use of the Calgary Opera Chorus to play the parts of the three witches, whose prophecy drives Macbeth to murder.

“The witches themselves are this enormous group of women, and I think that way of telling as opposed to the three witches that happened and in the Shakespeare story, really amplifies the power of those women,” Peake said.

The opera is on stage with performances on April 22, 26, and 28.

Tickets start at $39, and are available at calgaryopera.com/tickets.

Audience getting a different take on Macbeth

Peake said that using Verdi’s operatic take on Macbeth captured the essence of the original play, but was more focused on the psychological elements of the story. Something, she said, was a distilled version of Macbeth that was in itself beautiful.

“I think for people who know and love the Shakespeare play, they’re going to see that distillation, with this beautiful addition of this huge chorus and music,” Peake said.

“Then for people who know Verdi’s opera, I think our production is sort of doing two things simultaneously: We’re really playing into the earth elements and grotesque queens, the witches. And then at the same time, the hologram and technology-driven elements of enhancing the ghostly side of the story.”

Macbeth is being conducted by Jonathan Brandani, directed by Peake, and with set and lighting design by Scott Reid.

Brandani said the opera was already legendary for its music. The Calgary performance would continue that tradition of Verdi’s composition being both bewitching and unnerving at the same time.

“Macbeth may be a familiar story to many, but seeing it live on the Jubilee stage with holographic projections and powerful music radiating from the enormous chorus will give you an entirely new experience,” he said.

Italian baritone Altomare will play Macbeth, and is joined by South Korean soprano Yeo as Lady Macbeth. Yeo previously had a career highlight performing as Lady Macbeth at the Dante Alighieri Theater in Ravenna, Italy.

Banquo will be performed by operatic bass Robert Pomakov, and Macduff by tenor Andrew Haji.

McPhee Artist Development Program artists with Calgary Opera, Elias Theocharidis, Juliana Krajčovič, and Branden Olsen, will be playing the roles of Malcolm, the Lady in Waiting, and the Doctor.

Production following award win for Peake for comedy about Shakespeare

Peake was the winner of the 2023 Ovation Award for outstanding direction for the Theatre Under the Stars production of Something Rotten—a comedy about brothers competing with William Shakespeare in the world of English Renaissance theatre.

She was also the winner of the Tyrone Guthrie Award in 2012 for her work at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

Peake said that her father read Shakespeare to her while growing up and that the texts and the world of The Bard have always been present for her.

“This opportunity to marry the Shakespeare that I love with this operatic form that I also love and have discovered is really exciting,” she said.

“I interned with a director named Gary Griffin out of the states who’s the Associate Artistic Director at the Chicago Shakespeare Festival, and he said that Shakespeare and musical theatre are very similar, because you have to have the thoughts in the time allowed.

“In Shakespeare, the text has to move it has to roll along, so you can’t pause to have the thought. You have to learn how to have the thought inside the words, and in the same way, the same thing is true in musical theater, and I would also say opera.”

She said that the arias in Macbeth were in many ways just like a soliloquy from the play.

“I think the approach in many ways is quite similar, but also it’s fun to get to experience the story in this different format,” Peake said.