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
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.
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.