Macbeth Giuseppe Verdi's adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy of ambition and blood lust is his first true masterpiece. Innovative in scoring and psychologically apt, with a literate and faithful libretto by Francesco Piavi, Macbeth was so new in its sound, its structure, its novel handling of operatic conventions and its rightness to the Bard that, while it was a success, it was never an audience favorite. It took 100 years for the work to be recognized as the touchstone of Italian opera. Opera in the Heights presents a chillingly sung production of the "Scottish play." Director Lynda McKnight gives it a Mad Max look, setting all the revenge and killing against an apocalyptic background of battlefield encampment that does Verdi little harm. In her leather, Lady Macbeth morphs into a dominatrix Brünnhilde, adding a provocative layer of kink to the dysfunctional couple. The witches are as "weird" as Shakespeare describes, dressed in stylish '60s couture with Haight-Ashbury wigs in kaleidoscopic Day-Glo. During the cauldron scene, the witches inject the king with bubbling green elixir, which sends him hallucinating. The lighting goes all trippy, and TV screens around the stage broadcast the parade of haunted kings. The singing is impressive down the line, with the chorus shining in the famous "Patria oppressa," in which the Scots lament the sad state of their country. Argentinean baritone Gustavo Ahualli, as Macbeth, has one hell of a beautiful Verdian voice, full, rich and ripe with machismo. His characterization, however, doesn't match his plangent voice. There's no chemistry with his gorgon wife, and for Shakespeare's grisly tale to really work, these two have got to be partners in crime, equals in evil. Soprano Rosa D'Imperio, as Lady Macbeth, has a name that says it all. She has a steamroller of a voice, big and lush. She practically let off a sonic boom during her opening aria. "I will inflame your cold heart," she boasts in a showstopping burst of vocal gymnastics. D'Imperio blew the roof off Lambert Hall, and then wisely toned everything down afterward. Bass Aaron Sonensen delivered Banco's deep-dish forebodings with consummate control, as did tenor Jason Wickson as Macduff, whose family is murdered on orders from Macbeth in his unstoppable quest for power. Wickson possesses resonant, full-out bel canto style. Verdi amplifies Shakespeare with volcanic fury and unrelenting wickedness. The sublime poetry is there, too — it's all in the music. Don't let this exciting production pass you by. Through February 10. (Ruby cast: Feb 2, 7 and 9; Emerald cast: February 1, 8 and 10.) 1703 Heights Blvd., 713-861-5303. — DLG

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