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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Macbeth - Opera in four Acts (1847, revised 1865)
Macbeth - Leo Nucci (baritone); Lady Macbeth - Sylvie Valayre (soprano); Banquo - Enrico Iori (bass); Macduff - Roberto Iuliano (tenor); Malcolm - Nicola Pascoli (tenor); Doctor - Enrico Turco (bass); Lady Macbeth’s attendant - Tiziana Tramonti (soprano)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio, Parma/Bruno Bartoletti
Directed by Liliana Cavani
Set Designer: Dante Ferretti
Costume designer: Alberto Verso
Video Director: Andrea Bevilacqua
rec. Parma Verdi Festival, 6-17 October 2006
Sound Format: DTS-HD MA 5.01 PCM Stereo: Filmed in HD 1080i Aspect ratio: 16:9
Booklet languages: English, German, French
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
C MAJOR 722104 [157:00 + 11:00]

Like its place in the sequence of the composer’s operas, this recording of Verdi’s Macbeth is numbered ten in the line of recordings issued to celebrate the bicentenary of the composer’s birth. Under the title Tutto Verdi this series of twenty-six of his operas, plus The Requiem, is largely based on the Parma Verdi Festival. Each opera has a ten-minute narrative introduction, in English, using visual snippets from the performance. Two titles are not included: Aroldo (1857) and Jérusalem (1847), which was a re-write of his fourth opera, I Lombardi (1843) to a French libretto for the composer’s debut at the Paris Opéra. Aroldo was a re-write of Stiffelio (1850) to get away from the portrayal of a married Protestant Minister that offended some audience sensibilities.
 
The problem of the number of different operas Verdi composed is complicated by the major revisions he made, to both Macbeth and Simon Boccanegra among others, but which do not carry new titles. This might be justified as the revisions share the same musical core as the original, but with significant additions, revisions and even heightened musical sophistication. To clarify this in respect of Macbeth and this recording requires a little background to both versions.
 
In 1846, Verdi was engaged to compose a new opera for Antonio Lanari, the impresario at Mantua. However, the contract was assigned, by mutual agreement to Antonio's father, Alessandro, himself an important impresario and manager and director of Florence's Pergola Theatre. The birthplace of The Renaissance, Florence deemed itself the intellectual capital of Italy, hence this was a prestigious commission for the 33-year-old composer, who had already proved himself in Milan, Venice, Rome, and Naples. Florence had recently seen the Italian premieres of two foreign operas, Weber's Der Freischutz and Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable, both of which featured plots involving diabolical forces. Verdi had two possible subjects in mind: the drama Die Ahnfrau by the Austrian poet and playwright Franz Grillparzer. This demanded a doughty tenor. The other subject was Shakespeare's Macbeth, which called for a very strong baritone. Since Lanari's company could provide only the latter, in the considerable presence of Varesi, who would later create Rigoletto, Verdi chose Macbeth. The work was premiered on 14 March 1847.
 
Macbeth was a bold choice for Verdi. Shakespeare's play had not yet been staged in Italy, though it had been translated. With Florence also the centre of liberal thought Verdi was able to treat scenes of the supernatural, interference in political events, even regicide and political tyranny, which the censors elsewhere in Italy would never have permitted. When it was staged in Rome, the supernatural elements were excised and the witches became fortune-telling gypsies. In Naples and Palermo, it was not King Duncan who was murdered, but merely his head-of-staff. In Austrian-occupied Milan, the chorus patria oppressa (CH.29) ‘oppressed fatherland’, of the exiles' chorus became patria amata, beloved fatherland. The phrase vil corona, despicable crown, was removed.
 
Move forward eighteen years. Whilst Verdi and his wife were away in the more temperate climes of Genoa for the winter of 1863-1864, his Paris representative, Léon Escudier, visited them. He informed the composer that the Théâtre Lyrique had enquired if he would write ballet music for insertion into his score of Macbeth for performance at the theatre. Verdi’s response was more than Escudier could have hoped. The composer wished to undertake a radical revision of the opera he had written eighteen years before. Verdi’s proposals for the revised Macbeth included new arias for Lady Macbeth in act 2 with the conventional two verse Triofonai securo being replaced by the extraordinary monologue-aria La Luce langue, its chromatics being in his later style. He made substantial alterations to act 3 with a duet for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (CH.28) as well as adding the ballet, de rigueur for Paris (CH.23). In act four, Verdi re-wrote the opening chorus Patria oppressa (CH.29), a wonderful study in advanced choral sonorities and added the thrilling battle scene. He replaced Macbeth's death scene with the finale inno de Victoria (CH.39) where Macduff reports killing Macbeth to great rejoicing.In several other places, the original music was significantly tightened or retouched. It is this later revision that is performed here.
 
In tightening the original music and substituting his by then more sophisticated style, Verdi certainly got rid of any remaining rum-ti-tum elements, typical of his early period. He did so without emasculating the work’s vitality and rhythmic vibrancy. Regrettably, this performance under a frail-looking eighty-year-old Bruno Bartoletti does just that. The overall effect is anaemic when compared with the outstanding audio recordings conducted by Abbado (DG 449 732-2) and Muti (EMI 5 67128). Add a staging and production that meanders in respect of costume and atmosphere and much is lost. For the Florence premiere, a special ‘fantasmagoria’, a kind of projector, was ordered from Milan. In the end it was never used, since it only worked effectively in a darkened theatre. In those days the house lights were not extinguished during performances. In early programmes for Macbeth, one can also find a special credit for 'the inventor of the chemical smoke'. Verdi's concern for scenic effects is well documented. Genoa Opera installed a ferris wheel under the stage that brought the apparitions of the eight kings magically and motionlessly into view. In this production the costumes are a mish-mash of periods and certainly more Elizabethan than plaid. The witches of act one are washerwomen doing their laundry. They don beards when mentioned in the libretto (CH.2). When Macbeth returns to the witches (CH.27) and the Kings of Scotland process before him, there is no stage smoke: the whole scene lacks atmosphere. In both witches scenes, and elsewhere, the nylon-clad ladies of the chorus, legs neatly crossed, can be seen at the rear of the stage. However, with the video director tending to focus on mid-stage they are not too intrusive. The concentration of focus does change when Lady Macbeth applies her feminine wiles to persuade Macbeth as to the need for more murder that the crown may come to them (CH.14).
 
The solo singing is adequate. Sylvie Valayre as Lady Macbeth is a big-voiced lyric soprano. Lacking in strong lower notes, she hollows her tone effectively to read Macbeth’s letter with his news of the meeting with the witches (CH.6) and sings La luce langue with welcome even tone and phrasing (CH.15). Why the letter had to be brought by a dwarf defeats me, her toy boy perhaps to keep her amused during Macbeth’s absences at war? In general, she sings with a good range of expression and acts with conviction, particularly when Macbeth sees the vision of Banquo at the festive table (CHs.20-21). In this scene Leo Nucci’s acting is thoroughly convincing. He even manages to invest more colour and variety into his wiry tone than usual. Given that he was into his sixties at the time of this performance he copes well with the demands of the drama, showing few signs of vocal unsteadiness or pressure. Regrettably, after his final aria, Pieta rispetto anore (CH.36) he comes out of role to acknowledge the over-enthusiastic applause. Of the lesser roles Enrico Iori brings nice phrasing and tone to his aria (CH.17). Roberto Iuliano as Macduff sings with clear well enunciated lyric tone ((CHs.31-33). Nicola Pascoli in the small role of Malcolm is better than many I have heard (CHs. 32 1d 39). The chorus is outstanding in all their appearances, however dressed. The ballet is danced with elegance but seems inconsequential (CH.23).
 
Designs for the 1865 Theatre-Lyrique Macbeth survive and reveal a very large, sumptuous and elaborate production.
 
Verdi devised the scenario himself, describing it as “a little action that fits very well with the drama.”My guess is that it would have had significantly more atmosphere than this tepid production. To my mind there is no really good video recording of this opera. One of the best is that from Glyndebourne in 1972, with Josephine Barstow and Kostas Pakalis as the murdering couple; it has the atmosphere this one lacks. I saw the production a couple of times and the procession of the kings was distinctly eerie. I cannot offer it as a recommendation as it is quite heavily cut (Arthaus 101 095).
 
Robert J Farr

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