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Edinburgh International Festival 2009 (10 Verdi, Macbeth: Soloists, Edinburgh Festival Chorus, BBC Scottish SO, David Robertson (conductor), Usher Hall, 21. 8.2009 (SRT) 

Macbeth – Lado Atanelli

Lady Macbeth – Susan Neves

Banqo – John Relyea

Macduff – Vsevolod Grivnov

Malcolm – Nicholas Phan

Lady-in-Waiting – Katherine Broderick


This was one of my few experiences of opera-in-concert where it really worked as drama. Partly that was because the lead singers had learnt their roles (shame on those who didn’t!) so there was no fumbling around with scores. That allowed them to act, and Macbeth and Banquo’s opening scene involved some fairly convincing dramatic interaction. There were also some simple but effective touches in the apparition scene, such as the three spirits singing from different points around the hall and the subterranean bagpipes sounding from the back of the Grand Circle. However mostly it was due to the acute dramatic instincts of conductor David Robertson who shaped the score with a marvellous immediacy right from the opening bars. He also threw in a few knowing touches, such as an unexpected rall. towards the climax of the big ensembles so as to exaggerate the cumulative impact. Not only does he know the score inside out but he wasn’t afraid to do something exciting with it.

He was helped by a cast of soloists led by Ataneli’s well rounded title role. This singer is blessed with fullness of tone in every part of his broad range, making him sound heroic and confident in the big confrontations, but torn and indecisive during the “dagger” scene. He threatened to run out of juice for his final aria, but across the evening he was as virile a Macbeth as I’ve heard in a long time. His wife was less secure and was the cast’s weakest link. Neves had real trouble at the top of her range, hauling herself up to the high notes and not always making them, as at the end of the sleepwalking scene. Her voice has an edge of steel and certainly isn’t beautiful to listen to, but then that’s exactly what Verdi stipulated for this role, and the lower sections of La luce langue were appropriately chilling. Vsevolod Grivnov, standing in for an indisposed Massimo Giordano, had something of the Russian foghorn about him, sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb in the ensembles, but he refined his timbre for his aria, and his duet with Malcolm in La Partria tradita was thrilling. From what little we heard of Nicholas Phan’s Malcolm he sounds like a serious talent and one to keep an eye on as he tours in Glyndebourne’s Falstaff. The standout, unsurprisingly, was John Relyea’s Banquo. His cavernous bass voice is as magnificent as ever, vigorous and dark-hued in contrast to Ataneli’s brighter baritone. His contribution to the Act 1 finale was incredibly distinguished and his Act 2 aria was one of the highlights of the evening. Relyea served some of his own cameo years at the Edinburgh Festival and it is great to see him returning now that he has made the big time.

The orchestra were on fantastic form, responding to every nuance of Robertson’s skilful direction, and it’s two thumbs up for the Edinburgh Festival Chorus who actually sounded like a credible opera chorus, testament to the fantastic work that Christopher Bell has been doing with them. The ladies exaggerated their vowels so as to sound like convincing witches and the big ensemble scenes carried tremendous power without being blunt. The opening scene of Act 4 encapsulated this well, with a pale and wan sounding Patria oppressa, followed by a barn-storming Patria tradita. They all looked and sounded like they were having a whale of a time and so, judging by the strength of the ovations, was everyone in the audience.

This concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Saturday 19th September. The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Sunday 6th September at venues across the city. For full details go to


Simon Thompson


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