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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

By 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.
At 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.
The 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.
So 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.
From 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 or explanations.
The 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.
This 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.
The 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 charade.
Conversely, 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.
Her 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.
Nothing 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.
Iori’s 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 well.
I 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.
Finally, 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 this reviewer.
Whilst there are some features of this production that are outstanding, the overall impression is their isolation.
Robert McKechnie



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