Were Macbeth less ensnared by his violent ambition, he might have discovered that his monologues were just as compelling when sung. Baldwin Giang’s ‘14 “Blood Will Have Blood,” an inspired leap for undergraduate productions, investigates the skeleton of the original work by daring to refit it with new, musical skin.
“Blood Will Have Blood” combines librettos by six Yale College poets, music by Giang and recordings of famous actors reciting selected monologues in a reinterpretation of the Scottish Play. Five performers portraying eight members of “Macbeth’s” central cast sing the poets’ texts in individual scenes, with the musicians situated onstage, equal players in the play.
Giang wrote for an ensemble that was both participatory and accompanimental. In the opening, the harpist rose from her chair in the sole locomotion onstage, deftly sliding a violin bow across a xylophone to produce a cold whistle. Later, she struck a bass drum, thumping out rhythmic, ill portends of the battles to come. As the vocalists’ lines drew quiet and meditative, the cellist occasionally grounded the ensemble with guttural bass notes, like earth upon which cacophonous tendrils of melody unfurled. Atop the singing, glistening, wet harmonics trickled from the strings in fountained glissandi.
Lady Macbeth, played by the excellent Steffi Weinraub ‘12, captivated with a wide-eyed stare that utterly convinced of her insanity. She entered barefoot with her feet firmly planted, but her voice evinced a mind spinning madly above, unable to land. As with the other performers, Giang had Weinraub sing into a microphone alongside recorded effects. Her voice reverberated into the audience, gradually melding with a recitative by Judi Dench: “Wash this filthy witness from my hands.” Eventually, Weinraub arched backwards, screaming. As she quieted, mouth still agape, the cracklings of Dench’s voice teemed from the catacombs of her silent throat, like horrible insects. In a truly imaginative move, the music rejoined in Latin strains reminiscent of “Carmen,” in which another powerful woman meets her end while she messes with men.
The acts in “Blood Will Have Blood” are dislocated with no obvious connection, as is Giang’s intention. But, if the text is meant to serve as a clue to how they might cohere, the audience would have been better served if the poets’ lines were printed in the program, as they were difficult to discern amid the electronic noise.
“Blood Will Have Blood” is neither musical nor opera nor play, but occupies a nebulous space amidst the three. The actors—with the exception of Weinraub, who also plays one of the three witches—underscore this impression. Often, they seem more like soloists in recital than true embodiments of their characters. The result is that each character is not so much reinterpreted as reinserted, individually, into an isolated musical landscape. Giang seems to have intended for the audience to see something new in each character that this lack of cohesion did not make entirely apparent.
The production capitalizes upon a developing trend of using music as an integrative element, not merely as witness to onstage excitement, and applies it to tell a story. But this integration remains in the works. The director intends to re-imagine “Macbeth” with the text, the chronology and the staging as transformative. Though the audience does not expect Macbeth to sing, the surprise ends there: the character is still recognizably Macbeth, and is made no different by the music. Ultimately, the freshness of “Blood Will Be Blood” does not quite remake an audience’s conception of characters that present a formidable challenge to any interpretation—let alone reinvention.
But “Blood Will Be Blood” is, by all counts, ambitious. It is a remarkable step forward into unprobed musical territory, and in “Macbeth” Giang has chosen a dark plot generative of sufficient interest to introduce that territory to an unfamiliar public. “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” will hopefully herald productions that follow Giang’s innovative example.