Feminist Revelation Or Tawdry Exhibition?
An all female version of Verdi's Macbeth was always going to raise eyebrows, but the reinterpretation of Duncan's murder - asphyxiation by vibrator - in Beryl Streep-Porter's latest production of the mid-19th century masterpiece has sent the opera world into overdrive as critics "debate" the merits of the new Threadbone Opera staging which opened recently at Knowleton's Grand Theatre.
"Verdi was at heart a feminist ... he just didn't know it", stage director Ms Streep-Porter explains. "He was born too early to recognise his own fundamental feelings on the subject but his portrayal of prostitutes (La Traviata), over-protected daughters (Rigoletto) and especially captured concubines (Aida) shows his distinctly feminine side. He even wore women's underwear around his neck instead of a tie and almost certainly a twin-set at weekends - a sure sign that he was self-signalling." "So it follows", she continues, "that he would have thoroughly approved of the modifications we have chosen to make to what is, after all, a nineteenth rather than a twenty-first century take on Shakespeare's most feminist play. Just ask yourself, who wears the trousers in the Macbeth household?" "And the clues are also in the music - those aggressive bold brass fanfares that set the whole piece in motion: so quintessentially feminine in their expression of the pain and humiliation of intercourse and child birth."
So far so plausible: but what of the depiction of Duncan's murder which critics have labelled "sensationalist", "miscalculated", "meretricious" and even "depraved"? Ms Streep-Porter is dismissive: "throughout history the penis has been a symbol of male aggression and the artificial penis is a de-natured pseudo-objectified extension of that aspect of male power historically central to the macho homo-centric capitalist-industrialist narrative ... the electrification of the male organ renders it an object not of pleasure but of torture and its very existence imperils any attempt at female emancipation. In this production, that psycho-symbolic essentialist theorem is turned back upon itself. Duncan - an hereditary puppet doomed to act out and thereby reinforce a reified (literally) primogeniturist-genderist-royalist stereotype - is choked to death by his own over-weaning and ultimately deviant mechanised masculinity." "It's appropriate, it's shocking and it's neat."
Speaking on behalf of the Keep Opera Family-Friendly Campaign (which fights to ban not only "inappropriate opera productions" but roughly three-quarters of the current opera repertoire), housewife turned campaigner Judith Critchley-Futtock remains unconvinced. "What a lot of self-serving piffle", she wrote in her weekly blog: "it's just a lot of women trying to shock us by waving a large pink thingy on stage. I'm not narrow minded and I'm not shocked. I'm just saddened and disgusted. There's a place for everything - even those thingies - and it's not the stage". "Nor is it the bedroom", she added, "my husband is quite clear about that."
Macbeth continues until 30 September. Ms Streep-Porter's take on Puccini's great Californian opera featuring an all Chinese cast - La Fanciulla del Wok - will open the Spring Season at the Los Angeles Opera in 2018.
Scenes from the Threadbone Opera's production of Verdi's Macbeth in Beryl Streep-Porter's all female staging. TOP: the witches embody the collectivised power of radicalised ultra-feminism, BOTTOM LEFT: the childless Macbeth and Lady Macbeth sing of the dystopian effects of prophyllactic anomie; BOTTOM RIGHT: the much-discussed pink "thingy" used to murder Duncan. At least one "goes missing" every night and a cast and crew bag search has been instigated.