Simon Keenlyside’s British début as Macbeth at The Royal Opera House has both bemused and wowed the critics. After the live relay we can all have our say, but here is a smattering of divided opinion from the opening night critics.
Hilary Finch in The Times was blown away:
The English baritone, singing on the top of his form, is one of the most complex and complete Macbeths you are likely to experience in a lifetime. Cliché and preconception are swept aside. Keenlyside has penetrated Macbeth’s entire nerve system and the far reaches of his soul as thoroughly as the composer did himself.”
But not everyone agreed. Richard Fairman in The Financial Times wrote:
Keenlyside’s singing has grown in recent years. From the lithe, lyric voice of his youth, he has bulked up to provide the vocal muscle that Verdi’s baritone roles demand and this performance never felt short of healthy, red-blooded, outgoing singing. What it missed was the personal touch that made Keenlyside’s Papageno and Billy Budd, among others, so unforgettable. The more he pushes himself to become the extravert Verdi baritone, the less time he seems to have to look inward to the characters’ souls.
The Guardian‘s Erica Jeal was more enthusiastic:
Yes, there are other baritones with more velvet in their sound, but Keenlyside captures the guilty king’s uneasy swagger, lit up in the relentless chiaroscuro of Lloyd’s staging. He brings innate dramatic conviction to his vocal performance as much as to his acting; his aria before the assault of Birnam Wood is tremendous.”
While Rupert Christiansen for The Telegraph was perplexed:
Photo: Donald Cooper
Simon Keenlyside’s British debut as Verdi’s Macbeth meant a full house for this revival of Phyllida Lloyd’s production. Gamely ignoring an arm injury, Keenlyside radiated saturnine nastiness and sang with black force, without ever convincing me that he was comfortably inside the music.
Perhaps the tendency to shout tonelessly was a deliberate aspect of his characterisation, but come the beautiful final aria he seemed merely inexpressive and running out of puff. If the interpretation is to mature, he needs to pace himself better and allow the Verdian legato to flow more smoothly.”