Opera review: ‘Lady Macbeth’ at Fais Do-Do


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Veronika Krausas’ ‘The Mortal Thoughts of Lady Macbeth,’ lasting just over half an hour, for soprano and three witches, falls somewhere between a scena and a one-act opera. But then time is, as we know, relative, especially when the mind is going. A half-hour spent up close with mad Lady Macbeth, and spent in a spider-infested haunted space, with aerialists swaying overhead, feels like a major experience. Turn your head and there’s severed one next to it, and well, the clock stops for a moment.

That space is Fais Do-Do, a club on West Adams turned, for this occasion, into a musty attic full of junk and cobwebs. Classical concerts in jazz and comedy clubs have become all the rage. Last month a fanciful opera was held not far from Fais Do-Do in an abandoned Culver City car dealership. ‘Mortal Thoughts of Lady Macbeth’ is an inspired next step.

The opera also fits right in to the contemporary realization that the deeper one goes inside of Lady Macbeth the more terrifying she becomes. Verdi in his ‘Macbeth’ made all ancillary to the lady’s losing her mind. Shostakovich’s ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’ tells a savage Russian tale of unsexing. In his 1957 masterpiece, ‘Throne of Blood,’ the Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa used Noh theater techniques to portray a spooked heroine. In Stephen Dillane’s one-man ‘Macbeth,’ the queen’s madness was a reflection of the king’s.
There is a little of all those Ladies in Krausas’ short opera, which has a libretto by Thomas Pettit based on Shakespeare’s text for Lady Macbeth and the three witches. It had its premiere two years ago at New York City Opera’s exploratory VOX Festival, and was presented again in San Francisco in 2009. Though minimally mounted in both places, the opera was noticed, receiving prizes for a new work in the Bay Area and in Vienna. This lavish Los Angeles production is the first full-scale presentation.


And full-scale it is. You hardly know where to look in all the clutter the designers Marcus Herse and Matt Hooper Pennington supply. The audience surrounds the sets. The witches, covered in creepy shrouds (costumes by Swinda Reichelt), have their own bins, but Yuval Sharon’s staging keeps his protagonist continually on the move. At one point or another, she sings directly to just about everybody in the room, including those overhead.

Those overhead are quite the scene stealers. Rigging (by Merlin Larsen of AiRealistic) adds a tangle of ropes and rigging to the mess, which includes suitcases and shoes and a lampshade and a fan and a gas can and lots more that dangles from the webbing. Continually climbing up and down or dangling themselves, three tireless aerialists (choreographed by Bianca Sapetto) add their own mysterious presence. At one point, one of them, swaying from a rope, holds an unsteady spotlight on Lady Macbeth, a pun, perhaps on out, out damned....

No wonder the soprano goes mad.

Despite the considerable distraction, Krausas’ music does a fine job of holding attention by itself. A composer from Canada who is on the faculty at USC, she gives the soprano a usefully broad range of expression, from lyrical and introspective to hysterical. Strings, oboe, bassoon and percussion (the seven-member ensembleGREEN, conducted by Marc Lowenstein) provided a consistently interesting and colorfully dramatic underpinning, the rhythmic, rhapsodic and often strongly percussive music ever changeable and atmospheric.

Michelle Jasso’s Lady Macbeth is vibrantly sung and animated. But in a production where surprise sidesteps operatic convention, she seemed a holdout, her singing grand, her words not enunciated for comprehension.

To make an hour’s entertainment and give Macbeth a voice, ‘Mortal Thoughts’ was preceded by a solo guitar score (Han Werner Henze’s ‘Royal Winter Music’) interspersed by three Macbeth soliloquies read by actor John Walcutt. Michael Kudirka was the excellent guitarist in Henze’s unsettled score. But Krausas happens to be herself a composer of alluring guitar music. She has accomplished so much with ‘Mortal Thoughts,’ she might, in the future, give some thought to her own curtain raiser.

-- Mark Swed

‘The Mortal Thoughts of Lady Macbeth,’ Fais Do-Do, 5253 W. Adams Blvd., L.A. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $25 -$45. (323) 468-8978 or
Running time: 1 hour.