Written by Ashley Mahoney for The Charlotte Post

It’s “Macbeth” like you’ve never seen it before.

You may remember the dreaded Shakespeare assignment from high school English class, but prepare for Opera Carolina to breathe new life into their 2019-20 season opener, which runs at Belk Theater Nov. 7, 9 and 10.

“The season is really about interesting characters,” said Opera Carolina’s Artistic Director Maestro James Meena. “Shakespeare crafted ‘Macbeth’ as almost a moral tale about temptations of power and the decisions one makes, and how the decision one makes—regardless of whether you think it’s fate or your own decisions—propel your life. That’s really what ‘Macbeth’ is about, and that’s really what “I Dream” [the season finale] is about—decisions and how that propels one’s life.”

Baritone Mark Rucker and soprano Othalie Graham lead the production as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. While the play is set in Scotland, they are both artists of color.

“One of the things that is important to remember about Opera Carolina, and this has been true since I’ve been with the company, we have never looked at race of an artist of being indicative of how to cast that artist,” Meena said.

The roles of leading ladies of color, such as legendary sopranos Leotyne Price and Grace Bumbry, were often limited to certain types of roles.

“I remember back in the 1960s and 1970s when leading ladies who were African American were really pigeonholed,” Meena said. “Leotyne sang gorgeous Aida. She sang gorgeous Carmen. Grace Bumbry, the same way. We have moved past that in the opera house particularly, and I think we’ve moved past that in theater as well, that we can look at an artist as an artist, regardless of their race.”

Meena and Rucker have known each other for years, with Rucker playing the role of Macbeth the last time Opera Carolina presented it in 2004.

“He is a leading baritone at the Metropolitan Opera,” Meena said. “He is still in demand across the world. I just saw Mark last December at Convent Garden in London [with the Royal Opera as Paolo in Verdi’s ‘Simon Boccanegra’]. He is just one of the most compelling singing artists in the business right now.”

Graham is hardly a stranger to Opera Carolina. She performed the title role in Puccini’s “Turandot” for the company in 2015.

“Our audiences may remember she sang our Turandot the last time we performed ‘Turandot,’ and also ‘Aida’—now that was almost a decade ago,” Meena said. “Othalie is coming for her first time in the role of Lady Macbeth, and she is just a fantastic artist—like Mark, she performs all over the world, and is in great demand. We’re really, really thrilled to have both of these first-rate artists coming in for our ‘Macbeth’ production, which is a new production—new sets, new video, new costumes—everything. Folks who are opera aficionados who will say, ‘oh, I’m not interested in seeing ‘Macbeth,’ this will be a production like they will not see anywhere else in the opera business. It is originating here in Charlotte.”