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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Macbeth – opera in four acts after Shakespeare
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Macbeth – Kostas Paskalis (bar)
Lady Macbeth – Josephine Barstow (sop)
Banquo – James Morris (bass-bar)
Macduff – Keith Erwen (ten)
Malcolm – Ian Cales
The Glyndebourne Ballet
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Glyndebourne Chorus/John Pritchard
Rec. live Glyndebourne, 1972
Region 0
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 101 095 [126’00”]




I suspect two names will stand out for you in this cast: Josephine Barstow and James Morris. Others you might have heard of, and wondered what became of them – Kostas Paskalis, a Greek baritone who had Macbeth at the centre of his repertoire, and Keith Erwen, a British tenor who had an unfortunately short career. This DVD (taken from a Southern Television live relay) allows the opportunity to witness all in their prime.

As the accompanying booklet points out, Macbeth played an important part in the Glyndebourne repertoire pre- and post- 1945. This production by Bulgarian director Michael Hadjimischev is somber and austere, and implies that the fate of Scotland under the Macbeths is somehow inevitable. The whole is a traditional interpretation.

The image quality is a little dated perhaps, but this mainly aids the sense of depression and undoing that pervades the opera. Dave Heather’s television direction adroitly mixes the overall scene with facial close-ups, whilst not ignoring minor roles.

The prelude reveals a sound picture that is reasonably brightly lit. The strings have a slight edge on the attack, winds and brass are forward and provide solo passages of individuality. As one might expect, John Pritchard’s conducting is tasteful and refined rather than impetuous or risk-taking. The chorus are forthright in their contribution.

As to the soloists, it is Josephine Barstow that makes strongest impression. Verdi’s oft-quoted remark about Lady Macbeth needing an ‘ugly’ voice plainly does not apply here, the part being easily within Barstow’s grasp. Indeed it is refreshing to hear a young singer, rather than a great declining one, tackle it. Where the stage direction is limited – it is of the ‘stand and deliver’ type – the voice is urgent, demanding, searching and touching by turns. The sleepwalking scene in particular is a tour de force of inner drama, as it should be, but so too are the some of the exchanges with Macbeth.

Paskalis’s Macbeth and Morris’s Banquo are well matched vocally. The former occasionally lets key phrases slip in significance, while Morris shows an already advanced understanding of his role. Paskalis comes into his own however in the latter stages, where he too is favoured by forward placing on the stage. His delivery of ‘Pieta, rispetto, amore’ is nicely legato yet full of dramatic conviction.

Altogether an impressive evening at the opera that does bear revisiting; with a production that grows on you over time. Above all though Josephine Barstow’s fine Lady Macbeth will be welcomed by her admirers, and should be experienced by others too.

Evan Dickerson




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