music concerts by Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
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Seen & Heard
Editor in Chief
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Macbeth – melodrama in four acts (1865)
Macbeth, a general
in King Duncan’s army - Leo Nucci (baritone);
Banco, a general in King Duncan’s army - Enrico Iori (bass); Lady
Macbeth - Sylvie Valayre (soprano); Macduff, a Scottish nobleman,
Thane of Fife - Roberto Iuliano (tenor); Malcolm, Duncan’s son
- Nicola Pascoli (tenor); Lady Macbeth’s lady-in-waiting - Tiziana
Tramonti (mezzo); Il medico - Enrico Turco (bass); Davide Ronzoni;
Riccardo Di Stefano; Noris Borgogelli.
Compagnia Balletto di Roma
Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Regio di Parma/Bruno Bartoletti
rec. live Teatro Regio di Parma, June 2006
Director for Stage: Liliana Cavani
Set Design: Dante Ferretti
Costume Design: Alberto Verso
Lighting Design: Sergio Rossi
Choreography: Amedeo Amodio
Director for TV and Video: Andrea Bevilacqua
Region 0; Sound formats: DD5.1; LPCM stereo; Picture Format:
16:9 anamorphic NTSC; Subtitles: GB, D, F, I, E; Liner Notes
GB, D, F; Disc Format DVD9
all means relocate an opera to a different period but please
ensure that the new setting adds to its meaning and that
the law of unintended consequences does not take over. This
production brings the setting forward to a war-torn theatre
of the 1940s, with an audience on the stage seated in theatre
wings and the opera itself taking place between them.
There is an enormously
evocative opening with the camera focus on the sky above ‘the
theatre’, search lights against a glowing fiery sky, the
noise of falling bombs and the dreaded wail of the air-raid
siren. The camera pans down into ‘the theatre’ and onto the
stage for the opening prelude. An orange glow and white flashes
are seen through smoke at the rear stage. Apart from a repeat
at the end of the first scene, the occasional orange glow
with smoke and a fantastic silhouetted back-drop for the
chorus of refugees at the start of Act IV against an almost
similar sky, that is it.
the opera’s conclusion there is no switching off searchlights,
no return to blue skies and no relieving all-clear siren.
Nothing. Just the end of the opera on the stage. I do not
understand how this setting advances our understanding or
appreciation or the relevance of the opera to today - although
why it must have a relevance is itself irrelevant because
it can be watched for its own sake without any need for justification.
Greed for power, like war, is open-ended? Maybe. Maybe not.
unintended consequence is the claustrophobic appearance of
the stage; and the very odd looking consequence is that the
on-stage theatre audience are part of the opera chorus and
therefore sing as appropriate. A kind of sing-along with
Verdi. Perish the thought.
what of the setting of the opera within the theatre? The
sets themselves do not help – the costumes seem to vary in
period and country but say sixteenth/seventeenth century.
Does this suggest that the opera is pan-European and spans
periods? Maybe. Maybe not.
the opening measured slow bars, my first thought was that
we would be lucky to see all the opera on the one disc: we
do, but with no supplementary (flummery of) interviews, comments
measured orchestral playing is fine as such but to me it
lacks the taut power that pulls the audience forward in their
seats and involves them in the performance. Indeed that is
my really serious disappointment: I did not feel involved
with what was happening on stage.
was not helped by the opening setting for the witches: a
public washing fountain with laundry sheets hung across the
back-stage which Macbeth and Banco have to push aside to
enter. How undignified. How un-Thane like. These are no mystical
hags of the nether regions. These are plain simple washerwomen.
That said you would not hear washerwomen - plus the on-stage
theatre audience - sing as crisply or enunciate as clearly.
The chorus is on great form as indeed they are throughout – particularly
for the refugees’ chorus at the start of the last Act – a
real emotion jerker.
casting of the then 64 year old Leo Nucci as Macbeth with
the so much younger Sylvie Valayre as his wife adds an interesting
dimension: the power behind the throne being the younger-model
driving force. And what drive Valayre gives it. She positively
powerhouses her way through her opening scenes. Of course,
she fails dismally Verdi’s requirements of looking “… ugly
and malignant …”. Of Lady Macbeth’s voice he requested it
to sound “… rough, hollow and stifled …”. In her opening,
after reading the letter, she does manage some unsmooth sounds
on high with some (deliberate?) note insecurity. Or tutti
sorgete is also superbly sung, but, whilst she is singing,
she is play-acting with the dwarf who brought the letter
to her. The effect of her sung, scheming, evil intent is
reduced if not lost in the unnecessary and distracting playful
leaving Macbeth on stage sprawled on his bed, for her famed
aria La luce langue enables her to convert it to grand
effect into an aria of fearsome body-stroking seduction with
potential cruelty so near the surface.
other great scene (the sleepwalking) is marred by its pacing
with orchestral support somewhat lacking in dynamics and,
curiously, too smooth. The sighing and silences become blurred.
However, pace Verdi, because here her wonderfully
deep smooth piano is perfectly apposite. In this scene
both Tramonti (her lady-in-waiting) and Turco (the doctor)
give particularly sensitive support.
overwhelms Leo Nucci (Macbeth): uncertainty in plenty with
occasional instability in this character; vocal security
if some unsurprising dryness. This is an elder ‘warts and
all’ Macbeth. Where I think his performance is disappointing
is the infrequent use of piano. He really does not
need to prove that the years have not diminished his power.
His duet with Iori, lacking in dynamics, seems to miss the
mystery; his dagger ‘vision’, with little piano in
sight (or ear-shot) would waken the whole castle. However
his final aria Pietà, rispetto, amore ‘stops the show’ such
that he gently and so very graciously, acknowledges the entirely
justified long applause.
The important interaction between Nucci
and Valayre is well controlled and handled.
Her youthful probing sound contrasts
with, and balances, his firm baritone.
Their duets are particularly well sung.
round bass is used by him very effectively: closed down in
his duet with Nucci but opened out in his interaction with
Iuliano (Macduff) and with compelling colouring in his aria come
dal ciel precipita. Iuliano is a smooth tenor. His gentle
sound does not suggest to me that this Thane will wreak vengeance
and destruction: well sung with a fine line but no real vitriol.
This Macduff is just a nice guy. Pascoli does suggest a commanding
presence and vocal authority for the avenging son. It’s a
comparatively small but important role that Pascoli carries
wish I could enjoy the ballet more, but to me the Act three
contortions at the fountain are a tedious, inappropriately
erotic, intermission. However, as the female chorus of witches
are vocally very good indeed, so are the men with their precisely
staccato-ed murder scene for Banco. As I have said, the chorus
as a whole is outstanding for the refugees scene; it’s vocally
and visually gripping.
and returning to inconsistencies (as with the opening and
closing shots) if the dagger and the eight kings are real
on stage then should not the ghost of Banco be also: Verdi
demanded that as a ghost he should wear a veil and his neck
wounds should be visible. This ghost is left to our imagination.
Not difficult. Not consistent but with the stage layout,
not so very obvious. This lack of focus on Macbeth’s chair
is emphasised by the overfull stage and the camera-work – or
more precisely editing: disappointing. Shots are held for
a very short period indeed before cutting to a different
view. Sadly the same is true for most scenes: as if the editor
considers that we have a very limited attention span. In
fact it only serves to distract and irritate – or it did
there are some features of this production that are outstanding,
the overall impression is their isolation.
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