This revival of Phyllida Lloyd’s 2002 Macbeth production was probably the most anticipated event of the Royal Opera House 2017/2018 season, due mostly to Anna Netrebko’s return to Covent Garden after a three-year absence including a heartbreaking withdrawal from Norma.

The diva’s posting in social media of her daily life during the rehearsals in London with son and her husband (also singing in some of the performances) further fascinated. On Saturday, she more than met expectations, even if not everything else in the production could quite match her level.

Netrebko’s voice is now darker and warmer, with her low notes broad and strong, well suited for Lady Macbeth’s daunting vocal range. If the coloratura is not as precise as in her “ina” days,  the voice remains admirably homogeneous across more than two octaves. She was secure both in full cry—as in the initial “Vieni t’affretta” and the wilder phrases of the sleepwalking scene—or when scaling down the sounded reduced to a tightly-controlled thread, as in the first duet with Macbeth. Her acting was intense, with bold, primal reactions.

Zeljko Lucic offered a muscular Macbeth, powerful in forte, but with softer dynamics feebly projected and lacking in expression and nuance. This weakness was more obvious during the first act in the hushed scenes of meeting the witches with Banco or the the murder scene with his Lady, when his voice seemed to receded behind her firmer projection. The more extroverted third and four acts were more his speed, spectacular at “Fuggi, regal fantasima”.

Had Banco not died quite so soon Ildebrando D’Arcangelo might have stolen the show. His singing, full of detail, with crisp diction and phrasing, was the most idiomatic of the night. “Come dal ciel precipita” was a wonder of delicacy, passion and character.

In this performance Macduff was not sung, as the rest of the Netrebko nights, by Yusif Eyvazov but instead by David Junghoon Kim, a young promising tenor with a firm lyric voice. He capitalized on his less than four minutes of solo singing with an impassioned “Ah, la paterna mano” featuring easy, ringing high notes and was warmly received by the audience.

Lloyd’s production was more appealing visually than dramatically: gorgeous stage pictures without much the way of movement.  During the big aria, everything halted, leaving the singers standing as if in concert. As if to combat this stasis, the staging inserted intriguing details such as witches bringing and taking away children while the Macbeths schemed in bed.

Antonio Pappano attacked the overture made me fear the worst: a noisy theme in brass followed by an overly soft harp phrase with exaggerated silences in between. Fortunately the dramatic pulse improved right away and the maestro did a creditable job of accompanying the singers.

Full dramatic intensity was not reached because the orchestra was not quite in synch with what was happening on the stage. In the “dagger” scene, for example, Lloyd’s production presented the appearance and disappearance of the weapon with sudden lighting cues that, frustratingly, were always just an instant before or after the music from the pit.

With all due respect to everyone concerned (including Verdi and Shakespeare!) the real impact of this production came from one source: a great diva with a strong personality. Whatever she did and however she sang, Netrebko’s passion swept over the audience.

Perhaps I understand now why she gave up the role of Norma here two years ago. Anna Netrebko could never portray a woman who sacrifices her children because, as her Instagram reminds us, the only thing she loves more than her art is her son.

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