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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Macbeth - opera in 4 Acts (1865 revision)
Macbeth - Renato Bruson (bar); Lady Macbeth - Maria Zampieri (sop); Banquo - Robert Lloyd (bass); Macduff - Neil Schicoff (ten); Malcolm - Claes H AhnsjŲ (ten); Lady in Waiting - Lucia Aliberti† (sop); Doctor - Pietteri Salomaa (bass)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Deutschen Oper Berlin/Giuseppe Sinopoli
No recording venue or date given
PHILIPS OPERA CLASSICS 475 8393 PM3 [3 CDs: 52.16 + 32.47 + 77.19]

Verdi and his wife, Giuseppina went, as usual, to Genoa for the winter of 1863-1864. There were to be trips to Turin when Verdiís attendance was required at the National Parliament to which he had been elected after encouragement from Cavour. Whilst in Genoa Verdi was visited by his Paris representative Lťon Escudier who informed him that Parisís Thť‚tre Lyrique had enquired if the composer would write ballet music for insertion into his Macbeth of 1847, for performance at the theatre. Later, when a formal approach was made, Verdiís response was more than Escudier could have hoped for, indicating that the composer wished to undertake a radical revision, in French, of the opera he had written eighteen years before. Verdiís proposals for the revised Macbeth included new arias for Lady Macbeth in act 2 with the conventional two verse Triofonai securo being replaced by La Luce langue (CD 2 tr. 3), its chromaticism in his later style. He also made substantial alterations to act 3 including a duet for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (ora di morte) as well as the additional, de rigueur for Paris, ballet (CD 3 trs. 2-4). Verdi also composed a new chorus at start of act 4 (Patria oppressa. CD 3 tr. 8) and replaced Macbethís death scene with the final Inno de Victoria (CD 3 tr. 14).

Verdi did not attend the premiere on 21 April 1865 which met with mixed success as it did in Italian translation elsewhere. Audiences had become used to the sonorities of Un Ballo in Maschera and La Traviata and the unrevised parts of the work do stand out in their relative musical immaturity, harking back to the Risorgimento operas. It is in this revised form that the opera is performed, in Italian, in the present day, sometimes with the re-insertion of Macbethís death scene, although that is not so in this recording.

This reissue enters a very competitive mid-price market dominated by double CD re-issues conducted by Abbado and Muti. Abbadoís recording followed a widely acclaimed 1975 La Scala production by Giorgio Strehler. With the La Scala theatre not available, DG used the part completed Centro Telicinematografico Culturale in Milan in January 1976 to produce a warm yet detailed acoustic. Abbadoís conducting is idiomatic and vibrant and sets a theatrical benchmark for his soloists. As the queen, Shirley Verrett is smoky-toned and musically correct, perhaps lacking a little of the vocal wildness that Verdi had in mind and specified for the role. Cappuccilli as Macbeth is characterful and expressive, just the odd moment of dry tone intruding. Ghiaurovís bass is a rock-solid tower of strength whilst Domingo as Macduff sings an eloquent lament for his lost family in a vocally commanding performance (DG Originals 449 732-2). Mutiís recording was made in London the following July with the Ambrosian Opera Chorus being altogether more vibrant and involved than their La Scala rivals. But the strength of this performance is the superbly characterised singing of Fiorenza Cossotto as a very Italianate Queen of idiomatic inflection and power. Although her partner, Sherrill Milnesís Macbeth lacks a little Italianata his portrayal is full-voiced and well characterised with many felicitous vocal details.

It is into this competitive milieu that this mid-price reissue enters, perpetuating its earlier three disc full-price format. Immediately the question arises whether the virtues of the performance or recording justify the price premium compared to the DG and EMI issues detailed above. Well, it is an all-digital recording, which just about describes its major virtues. Renato Bruson is a superb vocal characteriser but he is no match for Cappuccilli for Abbado whose true Verdi baritone voice can call on greater resources of colour to complement his characterisation. Twenty-four or more years or so on from the original recording, Brusonís legato and firmness of vocal emission would be very welcome in a period with a dearth of Verdi baritones. But in the competition from both DG and EMI one has to say that his interpretation is just not in the running. As to his Lady, I can find few virtues in her singing, let alone in comparison with her rivals. I believe that at the time she was a replacement for the stronger-voiced and more characterful Ghena Dimitrovaís with whom the conductor had differences. If that was the case it is a pity, as Dimitrovaís Lady, characterful and strongly sung, is not represented on any official recording. Although Verdi said he did not want a beautiful voice for Lady Macbeth, he surely would have wanted more than the sparse characterisation and colourless tone provided here by Maria Zampieri. Robert Lloyd as Banquo is steady but is no rival to Ghiaurov for Abbado whilst Schicoff is strong but somewhat monochromic and penny plain.

Giuseppe Sinopoli on the rostrum doesnít dissect the score, and then reconstruct it in his own manner, as he did in his recording of Nabucco. That being said his interpretation and treatment of Verdiís cantilena are not those I recognise from other interpretations, not least, but not only, those from his Italian rivals mentioned above. The all-digital recording is nothing special as would tilt my view of the lack of any particular virtue in this release. 

Robert J Farr




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