Plácido Domingo is mired in scandal in the United States, but in Europe the show goes on, and in Vienna at least he appears still to be regarded as a star without blemish. Last night, he received a rapturous reception from the Staatsoper audience – where he took the title role in Verdi’s Macbeth – and was visibly moved by the thunderous applause and shouts of praise at the curtain. Setting personal reputation aside, what of the voice of the man who says “If I rest, I rust”?

Plácido Domingo (Macbeth) © Michael Pöhn | Wiener Staatsoper GmbH
Plácido Domingo (Macbeth)
© Michael Pöhn | Wiener Staatsoper GmbH

Domingo has long abandoned high-wire tenor roles for the lower realm of the baritone and while there is still some steel there, and warmth and colour, there’s no disguising the fact that the voice is weaker. At 78, he looks around him and sees that most of his contemporaries have long left the stage, but he’s still defiantly raging against the ravages of time, and – certainly in this production – showing the next generation a thing or two about stagecraft. The voice may have diminished but his presence is as powerful as ever.

One who should be watching him is his Lady Macbeth, the Russian soprano Tatiana Serjan. Her limited repertoire of gestures as she lusts for power quickly became tiresome and her diction was completely unintelligible, and while she has the most impressive middle and lower register, her top just disappeared the higher she went. Only in her final sleepwalking aria, “Una macchia é qui tuttora”, when she relives the atrocities she and her husband have committed, did she truly get into her stride.

Tatiana Serjan (Lady Macbeth) © Michael Pöhn | Wiener Staatsoper GmbH
Tatiana Serjan (Lady Macbeth)
© Michael Pöhn | Wiener Staatsoper GmbH

Christian Räth’s 2015 production sets the drama in a modern-day bleak concrete bunker, designed by Gary McCann and brilliantly lit by Mark McCullough. The cast roams the stage in Vera Richter’s military uniforms and drab fatigues; the witches in oversized greatcoats and long, white wigs, the only flash of colour supplied by Lady Macbeth’s blood-red costumes. It works really well and, crucially, Räth’s direction serves the music devotedly. He also introduces some impressive directorial touches to underscore Macbeth’s guilt-ridden visions: Banquo’s ghost is a vast silhouette on the bunker wall; his lineage a host of bloodstained youths. At the close, when Macbeth is finally vanquished, the vengeful chorus realise their hands are stained red, just like Lady Macbeth’s.

And yet there is uneven choral work throughout the evening. Early on, when the chorus learns of the murder of King Duncan, their reaction was sluggish and lacklustre, but in the last act they were magnificent in their desolation at the pitiless destruction of their country by the wicked Macbeth.

Tatiana Serjan (Lady Macbeth) and Plácido Domingo (Macbeth) © Michael Pöhn | Wiener Staatsoper GmbH
Tatiana Serjan (Lady Macbeth) and Plácido Domingo (Macbeth)
© Michael Pöhn | Wiener Staatsoper GmbH

American Ryan Speedo Green was commanding as Banquo, a part too small for such an attractive, rich bass voice – you long to hear more. Jinxu Xiahou impressed as Macduff, particularly in his big aria “Ah, la paterna mano”, and Carlos Osuna made his mark as Malcolm.

Driving it all was the forensic conducting of Giampaolo Bisanti, alert to every detail and drawing some outstanding playing from the Staatsopernorchester, with woodwind and strings on particularly fine form. But in the end, all eyes were on Domingo, who looked exhausted by his exertions but was generous in his praise for the cast and orchestra at the curtain. Macbeth might be dead, but defiant Domingo lives on to fight another day.

***11