by Ann Greer
Soprano Emily Noël has a gorgeous voice and a flair for the dramatic, which make her a perfect choice for one of the three singing witches in the Folger Theatre and Folger Consort’s “Macbeth.” This production, a 17th-century rewrite of Shakespeare by Sir William Davenant, features ample baroque music along with an enhanced role for the witches.
Chris Genebach, Rachael Montgomery, Ian Merrill Peakes, Emily Noël
Noël has performed in operas, and this “Macbeth” has been called a semi-opera. She says preparing for the role felt familiar.
“It’s the same process. You learn the lines and the rhythm, then you let the creative side take over, and allow your emotions to guide the way. I was a little nervous, speaking some lines instead of singing them, especially surrounded by such outstanding actors,” she says.
Emily Noël, Louis Butelli, Rachael Montgomery, Ethan Watermeier
After Noël was cast, she discovered she was pregnant, which she calls a happy accident. She explains that the Gaelic tradition of women as maiden, mother, and crone fits perfectly with her and her witch colleagues, played by Rachael Montgomery and the cross-dressing Ethan Watermeier.
“I didn’t expect to be pregnant, but the cast is excited to have a pregnant witch. The baby is a soprano, and she seems to enjoy being on stage. On my day off, at the time the show would start, she becomes quite active,” Noël says with a laugh.
When I saw the production, I thought a narrative had been created for Noël’s character in which she was pregnant, and the little soprano was in fact padding in Noël’s costume. Noël says she has discovered my view is not that uncommon among audience members.
Ethan Watermeier, Emily Noël, Louis Butelli, Rachael Montgomery
This “Macbeth” has a strong scholarly component that began in 2014, with a Folger Institute workshop that explored the distinctive English Restoration-era theatrical genre. It resulted in grants to further consider why these versions of Shakespeare were popular, and how they might succeed in performance today. Scholars were on hand from the outset of the production.
According to Noël, “It made the process different, in that we had an audience from the first rehearsal. So people were performing more, and it kept the energy level up. The scholars were always ready to jump in if people had questions.”
Noël was scheduled to perform with the Folger Consort later in the season, but she had to withdraw – the baby is due on December 15.
“Macbeth” is now playing at Folger Theatre through September 23, 2018. Tickets: folger.edu/theatre or 202-544-7077.
Photos by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet Photography.
Ann Greer has covered culture in the DC region for The Washington Post, Capitol File magazine, and WAMU-FM, among others. She was the first online theater critic in the DC region, for AOL Digital City Washington.