Verdi’s version sung by Courtney Mills; a wonderful talent, with a voice of size and beauty, as well as dramatic commitment for a genuinely moving performance
The relationship between Shakespeare’s plays and the operas based on them is too complicated to explore thoroughly in a single evening. But all credit to the Shakespeare Society for trying, and trying impressively, on Monday. Working with the Metropolitan Opera, the society arranged a program that juxtaposed scenes from the plays — read by Michael Cerveris, Linda Emond and others — with excerpts from the operas, sung by several Met singers and accompanied on piano by Craig Rutenberg.
That opera and spoken drama are two very different arts was inadvertently underlined by the evening’s commentator, Adrian Noble. Although he is directing the Met’s new production of Verdi’s “Macbeth” this season, Mr. Noble acted awestruck after each opera excerpt, offering trenchant comments like “Absolutely astonishing!” or “Extraordinary!”
The opera excerpts, however, were not all extraordinary. They had to contend with a basic inequality of scale: the arias and duets felt shoehorned into a small format, and it sounded as if all the singers were trying to hold in their voices in the relatively small Kaye Playhouse. All the actors, meanwhile, wore microphones, a sign that vocal projection in spoken drama is a lost art; in a theater the size of the Kaye, it really shouldn’t be necessary.
Each pairing contrasted a spoken scene with its sung version — sometimes rather jarringly, since the sung version is usually longer and often more flowery. This was certainly true of Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette,” sung without special distinction by Olivia Gorra and Raúl Melo.
Andrzej Dobber, who is to make his Metropolitan Opera debut as Amonasro in “Aida” on Sept. 29, seemed to work hard in another Verdi role, as a doughty Macbeth. Lady Macbeth’s first monologue, read by Ms. Emond as a late and very good substitution for Martha Plimpton, was the only excerpt not matched by its operatic setting, no doubt because of the difficulty of finding an artist capable of singing it.
The final pairing was, fittingly, the strongest. First Anika Noni Rose and Ms. Emond read Desdemona’s final scene from “Othello”; Ms. Rose even sang the “Willow” song in a lovely, pure nonoperatic voice. Then came Verdi’s version, as sung by Courtney Mills, a soprano with the Met’s young-artist program: a wonderful talent, with a voice of size and beauty, as well as a dramatic commitment that made this excerpt a genuinely moving performance.