NEW YORK — With long, thin arms and legs, an expressive face and graceful movement, Nadja Michael commands the stage in a manner few sopranos do.
Michael's Metropolitan Opera debut was the chief attraction of the company's visually compelling, vocally flawed but always entertaining revival of Verdi's "Macbeth," which opened Thursday night.
A 43-year-old German who started as a mezzo, Michael was a smoldering Lady Macbeth in a nightgown, slinky dresses and dark pantsuit. With facial contortions and jerky mannerisms as she slithered around, Michael conveyed her character's vile lust for power and contempt of vulnerability.
Her pitch was uncertain, especially during the difficult Letter Scene in the first act, but got more precise as the night went on. Still, it was an exciting, vibrant performance, and she drew a large ovation during curtain calls. Michael seemed a bit overcome, covering her face, slipping and almost falling to the stage before conductor Gianandrea Noseda steadied her.
She was paired with baritone Thomas Hampson, also her Macbeth during a run at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in autumn 2010. Hampson can come off as smug onstage, and Macbeth fits that personality. However, his voice is not big enough for the part, especially in a house the size of the Met, where he was singing the role for the first time. By the end of the banquet hall scene that closes the second act, he started to sound raspy.
Bass Guenther Groissboeck was an imposing, velvety Banquo, and tenor Dimitri Pittas reprised his sweet-voiced Macduff, which he sang when the Adrian Noble production opened in October 2007. Noseda, music director of the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy, drew a propulsive and energized sound from the orchestra, one that occasionally overpowered singers.
Noble's production of Verdi's first adaptation of a Shakespeare play updates the action to post-World War II, with modern dress, machine guns for the soldiers and even a jeep. Mark Thompson's sets are dark and his costumes are bright. Jean Kalman's lighting is striking, with rain and snow used to create the Scottish gloom.
There are six more performances through April 9, with the March 24 matinee broadcast on radio around the world.