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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Macbeth - Opera in 4 Acts (1847, rev. 1865)
Macbeth - Kostas Paskalis (baritone); Lady Macbeth - Josephine Barstow (soprano); Banquo - James Morris (bass); Macduff - Keith Erwen (tenor); Malcolm - Ian Caley (tenor); Lady Macbeth’s attendant - Rae Woodland (soprano)
Glyndebourne Chorus; London Philharmonic Orchestra/John Pritchard
Director: Michael Hadjimischev; Set Designer: Emanuele Luzzati
rec. Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 1972
Video Director: Dave Heather
DVD Format: DVD 9/NTSC; Sound Format: PCM Stereo; Picture Format: 4:3
Subtitle Languages: English, German, French, Spanish
Booklet notes: English, French, German
ARTHAUS MUSIK 102 316 [146:00]

In 1846, Verdi was engaged to compose a new opera for Antonio Lanari, the impresario at Mantua. However, the contract was reassigned to Antonio's father, Alessandro, an important impresario and manager and director of Florence's Pergola Theatre. The birthplace of The Renaissance, Florence was deemed the intellectual capital of Italy, hence this was a prestigious commission for the 33-year-old composer, who had already proved himself in Milan, Venice, Rome and Naples. Florence had recently seen the Italian premieres of two foreign operas, Weber's Der Freischutz and Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable, both of which featured plots involving diabolical forces. Verdi had two possible subjects in mind including Shakespeare's Macbeth, which had not yet been staged in Italy, though it had been translated. With Florence also the centre of liberal thought Verdi was able to treat scenes of the supernatural, interference in political events, even regicide and political tyranny, which the censors elsewhere in Italy would never have permitted and indeed were excised or altered when the opera was staged elsewhere in the Peninsula. Verdi conceived the title role as a very strong baritone. Lanari's company could provide the latter, in the considerable presence of Varesi, who would later create Rigoletto. Verdi’s Macbeth was premiered on 14 March 1847.
The 1847 original is not the version of Macbeth performed here or elsewhere. For that it is necessary to move the story forward eighteen years. In the winter of 1863-64, Léon Escudier, Verdi’s Paris representative visited bringing an enquiry from the Théâtre Lyrique asking if he would write ballet music for insertion into his score of Macbeth for performance at the theatre. Verdi’s response was more than Escudier could have hoped for, indicating that the composer wished to undertake a radical revision of the original opera. Verdi’s proposals for the revised Macbeth included new arias for Lady Macbeth in act 2 with the conventional two verse Triofonai securo being replaced by the extraordinary monologue-aria La Luce langue (CH.21), its chromatics in his later style. He made substantial alterations to act 3 with a duet for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (CH.35) as well as adding the ballet, de rigueur for Paris, in act three but omitted in this performance. In act four, Verdi rewrote the opening chorus Patria oppressa (CH.36), a wonderful study in advanced choral sonorities. He also added the thrilling battle and replaced Macbeth's death scene with the finale inno de Victoria (CH.47) where Macduff reports killing Macbeth to great rejoicing.In several other places, the original music was significantly tightened or retouched. It is this later revision, as is now general practice, that is performed here.
In tightening the original music Verdi got rid of any remaining rum-ti-tum elements, typical of his early period substituting, by then, his more sophisticated style. He did so without emasculating the vitality and rhythmic vibrancy of the opera and which is reflected in John Pritchard’s conducting. However, it is the traditional production and atmospheric effects that are so welcome here. I saw this production when it came on tour to Manchester in 1973 and its atmosphere has remained in my mind’s eye ever since, particularly the scene of the apparitions as eight kings pass before Macbeth. In the touring performance I saw, the title role was sung to good effect by Terence Sharpe, a stalwart in the British opera scene. In this recording from the Festival itself the Greek baritone Kostas Paskalis, much under-appreciated by the recording companies, is a tower of strength. I saw him at Covent Garden as Rigoletto a couple of years earlier with a tenor called Pavarotti as the Duke. Paskalis’s dark strong-toned voice with its chilling call of La maledezione was impressive as was his acting. His vocal skills also impressed me then, and do so again here in this performance. I venture to suggest Paskalis would stand head and shoulders above any so-called Verdi baritone singing today.
Verdi famously said that for the role of Lady Macbeth he did not want a soprano with a particularly beautiful voice. British soprano Josephine Barstow, with her somewhat occluded tone could have been just the voice he had in mind. She colours and shades her singing to bring out the meaning of the words in their deepest and darkest sense. Hers is vocal characterisation, not mere vocal beauty, as it is too rarely heard. Add her considerable acting skills and she is to my mind a nearly perfect assumption of a fiendishly difficult part to bring off. James Morris, to be a considerable Wotan at Bayreuth, is more bass-baritone than full bass as Banquo. His acted and sung interpretation is good, but a lack of true bass sonority takes some of the chill of fear for his son as Banquo, sensing the approach of the assassins, urges him to flee. Keith Erwen is a virile-sounding Macduff whilst Ian Caley is more than adequate in the second tenor role of Malcolm. The chorus sing thrillingly in Patria oppressa.
Glyndebourne was the first British opera company to perform Verdi’s Macbeth in 1937. This production and cast do justice to that pioneering venture. In welcoming its reappearance on DVD from Arthaus Musik I note that they now get the timing correct on the box at 146 minutes, not the 126 in its earlier manifestation (101 095).
No producer gimmicks such as caravans and the like mar this earlier traditional production from Glyndebourne. The stage effects, singing and orchestral playing contribute to a thrilling musical and visual performance worthy of the composer’s final version.
Robert J Farr