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DVD: Crotchet

Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Macbeth - opera in 4 acts (1865 revision)
Macbeth - Giuseppe Altomare (baritone); Lady Macbeth - Olha Zhuravel (soprano); Banquo - Pavel Kudinov (bass); Macduff - Rubens Pelizzari (tenor); Malcolm - Marco Voleri (tenor); Doctor - Luca Dall’Amico (bass); Chorus Lirico Marchigiano
Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana/Danielle Callegari
Stage direction, set design and costumes by Pier Luigi Pizzi
rec. live, Sferisterio Opera Festival, Macerata, Italy, 2, 5 August 2007
Picture format: NTSC 16:9. Dual Layer Disc. Sound format: PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1.
Menu language: English. Subtitles: English and Italian. Sung in Italian
NAXOS 2.110258 [152.27]
Experience Classicsonline

For winter of 1863-1864 Verdi and his wife, Giuseppina, went, as usual, from their home in Bussetto to the more temperate Genoa. Apart from Verdi’s usual trips to Turin, when his attendance was required at Italy’s first National Parliament, their restful sojourn was also interrupted by a visit from his Paris representative and friend Léon Escudier. He brought an enquiry from Paris’s Théâtre Lyrique asking if the composer would write ballet music for insertion into Macbeth of 1847, for performance at the Théâtre. This was his tenth opera. Later, when a formal approach was made, Verdi’s response was more than Escudier could have hoped for, indicating that he wished to undertake a radical revision in French. Verdi’s changes for Macbeth included new arias for Lady Macbeth in act 2, with the conventional two verse Triofonai securo being replaced by La Luce langue (ch.15), its chromaticism being in his later more mature style. He also made substantial alterations to act 3 including the inclusion of the Ballet, de rigueur for Paris, (ch.22) and the concluding duet ora di morte for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth after Macbeth’s second visit to the witches (CH.25). In act four Verdi rewrote the opening chorus Patria oppressa (ch.26), added the thrilling battle scene and replaced Macbeth's death scene with the final inno de Victoria as Macduff reports that he has killed Macbeth (ch.34).

This performance of Macbeth is the second DVD recording issued by Naxos from the 2007 Sferisterio Opera Festival. It follows Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda (see review). Both were recorded by the Italian company Dynamic and are issued by Naxos under licence. Dynamic themselves issued the third opera of the 2007 Festival, Bellini’s Norma, some time ago (see review). There are major differences in the presentation between the Dynamic and Naxos issues. The former use two DVDs and claims “filmed in high definition, whilst Naxos issues the recordings on one dual layer disc. I have to report that I find no difference in the quality of the sound or picture between the two. What is different is the presentation and detail in the accompanying booklet. The Dynamic issue has a background essay and a plot synopsis in Italian, English, German and French. The Naxos has an essay in German and English only. Naxos issues however, score more highly in having significantly more Chapter divisions, a detailed Chapter-related synopsis and very welcome artist profiles.

The Sferisterio Opera Festival is held in the open air in the curved Arena in Macerata, a city in the Marche area of Italy that has hosted a Festival for over thirty years. It is in one of the most unusual arena venues. Originally built in the 1820s it was designed for pallone, a ball game called involving ricochets off the long wall. The massive curved back wall is largely shielded by the nature of the set. The width of stage frequently challenges producers. Not so the vastly experienced Pier Luigi Pizzi who is the latest to attempt to put Sferisterio more firmly centre-stage among Italy’s Opera Festivals.

Pizzi uses the width of the stage with red centred raked walkways sloping from a raised central dais on which is situated a red throne, and later, two. The costumes are in period with the addition of plenty of crimson red and black, including red rubber gloves and shoulder pads for the second appearance of the witches (ch.21). Macbeth is a dark tragedy with plenty of blood and Pizzi highlights the contrasts of the black of death and the red of blood whenever possible to good dramatic effect. Apart from the change of thrones, and some props such as tables front-stage in the banqueting scene (ch.18), the set is unchanged. Space and effect is wrought by use of plenty of ‘smoke’ from the ice machine around and along the raked walkways and on the front-stage. The apparitions are represented by the actors and singers walking across the top tier, the last holding a mirror in allusion to his lineage of future kings. If anything they were too real and lacked the surreal effect I recall from the Glyndebourne Macbeth of 1972.

For Pier Luigi Pizzi it perhaps seemed as though lightning did strike twice when, as with the production of Maria Stuarda referred to above, the singer scheduled for the eponymous role withdrew. As I report in my review of the Donizetti opera, the replacement meant that the scheduled singer was hardly missed. But Verdi-sized voices are not two a penny on the international stage these days. Yet again Pizzi was fortunate in his choice of Giuseppe Altomare whose singing and acting do not let the side down. Although lacking the vocal weight and intensity of the ideal Verdi baritone, he has something of a hole in the middle of the voice when he puts pressure on his tone. Perhaps aware of this limitation, he husbands his resources and compensates with careful phrasing, adequate variety of colouration and characterisation as well as committed acting. By the last act some tiredness has taken its toll and his tone is a little dry as he finally walks wearily and open-armed to be speared by Macduff (ch.33).

As is well known, Verdi did not want a beautiful singing voice per se for his conception of Lady Macbeth, specifying that the “voice should be hard, stifled and dark”. Like her Macbeth, the Ukrainian soprano Olha Zhuravel lacks the ideal weight of voice for the part. Whereas he compensates with the vocal skills outlined, she brings the role to life via her acting. I have never seen such a feline and fully involved interpretation of the Lady since Josephine Barstow at Glyndebourne in 1972, a performance caught on Arthaus Musik 101 095 in a regrettably cut edition. Like Barstow, Olha Zhuravel dominates the scenes by dint of her physicality and force of acted personality. By the sleepwalking scene (ch.30), with hair grey and looking haggard, her vibrato and lack of tonal variety is more obvious. Zhuravel is at her best when reading her husband’s letter recounting his meeting with the witches and their portents (ch.7) and in the drama of the banqueting scene (ch.18). In its totality hers is a formidably acted and involving portrayal that contributes significantly in bringing Pizzi’s conception alive.

Pavel Kudinov contributes strong and sonorous tone as Banquo (ch.17). Worthy singing from the two tenors as Macduff and Malcolm complements the strong vibrant chorus in the last act, and elsewhere, whilst the ballet is interpreted with appropriate expression. On the rostrum Danielle Callegari gives Verdi’s creation its full due, matching the differing styles of the later and earlier music to give a cohesive whole. The video director works an involving balance between close-up and wider distant shots that encompass the stage width. The sound is clear, vivid and well-balanced, catching the vibrancy of the all-important chorus contribution particularly well. The Italian-only libretto can be accessed at the Naxos website.

Robert J Farr


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