Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Macbeth – Opera in Four Acts (1847, revised 1865) in English translation by Jeremy Sams
Bonus: Conclusion, Act IV, 1847 version
Macbeth - Simon Keenlyside (baritone)
Banquo - Brindley Sherratt (bass)
Lady Macbeth - Latonia Moore (soprano)
Lady-in-waiting - Elizabeth Llewellyn (soprano)
Macduff - Gwyn Hughes Jones (tenor)
Malcolm - Ben Johnson (tenor)
Doctor - Gavin Horsley (bass)
Servant to Macbeth - Thomas Faulkner (bass)
Assassin - Riccardo Simonetti (bass)
Herald - Stephen Kennedy (bass)
Apparition - Cheyney Kent (bass)
Apparition - Roseanne Havel (soprano)
Apparition - Katie Bird (soprano)
Opera in English Chorus; English National Opera Orchestra/Edward Gardner
rec. 16-17, 19-20, 22-23 August 2013, Blackheath Halls, London. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 3180(2) [80:13 + 79:23]
All good things come to an end. This recording of Verdi's Macbeth marks the sixty-second, and last, Opera in English recording to bear the imprimatur indicating financial support from the Peter Moores Foundation. The Foundation was formed by the now Sir Peter, son of Liverpool’s Sir John Moores, who earlier established the Liverpool-based Littlewoods Football Pools along with Mail Order and Department Stores. He formed a Charity Foundation to assist the less fortunate in society around Liverpool and after whom the newer Liverpool University is named. Son followed father in forming a charity in 1964 to aid the arts, in the broad sense, and music and opera in particular. The work of this charity has included support for singers in training, many of whom have gone on to international careers and to participate in recordings of Opera in English as well as of rarely performed works. The former have been issued on Chandos and the latter recorded by Opera Rara. Since 1995 the Opera in English series, including this present issue, have been original recordings by Chandos; others were rescued from various sources and included Wagner’s Ring and other performances from English National Opera. All are of artistic significance and have opened up the operatic genre to a generation of English speakers which the art-form, with its elitist image and foreign languages, could easily have passed by.
It is perhaps appropriate that this last recording under the auspices of the Peter Moores Foundation should be an opera based on England’s greatest playwright, William Shakespeare. Macbeth is the first of three Verdi operas based on his dramas. The subject of Macbeth was a bold choice for the thirty-three year old composer for his tenth opera. Shakespeare's play had not yet been staged in Italy, though it had been translated. With Florence the centre of liberal thought Verdi was able to include scenes of the supernatural, interference in political events, even regicide and political tyranny, which the censors elsewhere in Italy would never have permitted. Further, Lanari, the theatre impresario, did not stint on costumes and staging. He also had the services of the baritone Varesi, who would later create Rigoletto, under contract. His vocal prowess matched Verdi’s concept of the title role. Macbeth was premiered on 14 March 1847 to acclaim. In 1865, eighteen years after its triumphant first performance, in Florence, Verdi was asked to revisit the work. He was called on to add a ballet for a Paris revival for the Théâtre Lyrique. To the delight of the theatre he said he would go further and revise the score. It is this revision, plus the ending from 1847, which forms the basis of the present recording.
In the title role, Simon Keenlyside, a sometime beneficiary of the Peter Moores Foundation in his earlier years, has become one of the greatest lyric baritones in the world. He has appeared at all the best operatic addresses and sang the role of Macbeth, to acclaim, at Covent Garden in 2011. Filmed in HD the performance was transmitted to cinemas on 11 June 2011. It has since been issued on Blu-Ray: Opus Arte OA BD 7095D. Although he has also sung Rigoletto, his voice is more lyric and better suited perhaps to the likes of Rodrigo in Don Carlos than the heavier Verdi baritone roles. On this recording, managing the challenging prosody of language and music quite in Jeremy Sams translation superbly, he can hardly be bettered. His singing in the death scene from the original version (CD2 Trs. 24-26) is an added bonus. Throughout, his vocal expression, variety of tone, nuance and characterisation are first class. As his Lady, American soprano, Latonia Moore could well have met Verdi’s original conception of the ideal voice. She matches Simon Keenlyside for vocal quality and characterisation. Her voice is rich in colour and can soar to the heights with apparent ease. Her tonal variety is heard to good effect when reading Macbeth’s letter (CD1, Trs.7-8) and in the sleepwalking scene (CD.2.Tr.17) where she hits the vocal stratosphere with ease and security.
In the lesser roles, Brindley Sherratt is sonorous as Banquo (CD1. Trs.26-27), Gwyn Hughes Jones a strong lyric-toned Macduff (CD 2.Trs.13-14), nicely contrasted with the lighter-toned tenor of Ben Johnson as Malcolm. It is also a pleasure to hear Elizabeth Llewellyn, who I so admired at the Hallé Orchestra’s Verdi bicentenary concert in November 2013 getting in on a recording as her career takes off after a long inter-regnum due to illness during her training.
The other stars are the conductor, Edward Gardner, his orchestra and the virile singing of the chorus, particularly the vitality of the witches in both act one scene one (CD1, Trs. 2-6) and when Macbeth returns to see them (CD2, Trs. 1-8). This also includes the ballet music Verdi wrote for the revival (Trs.2-4). The Chandos recording has width and depth to add to its warmth.
Robert J Farr
And another review ...
I will straightaway admit to being disappointed by this set. It’s the sixty-second and last recording in the Chandos Opera in English series made in collaboration with the Peter Moores Foundation. That disappointment centres upon the very audible decline in the baritone of its protagonist, Simon Keenlyside, an artist for whom I have long had the highest admiration.
I heard him sing Macbeth in Italian at Covent Garden in October 2011 and was transported by the ringing virility of his baritone; since them, however, it would seem that a combination of aging and three years of singing heavier roles in big houses worldwide has taken its toll: the voice now verges on the hoarse, its lustre and smooth legato gone, its tonal centre blurred and its evenness marred by the dreaded wobble. He is still a splendid vocal actor with the top A flat the role demands but scarcely any longer recognisable as the baritone who sang Schubert Lieder with such patrician beauty; he now too often shouts his way through the part.
Latonia Moore, a distinguished Aida, has something of the smoky timbre typically associated with so many of the great Afro-American voices of the past but her lower register is cloudy. Although she has the heft for the top notes, delivered with a quasi-hysterical intensity wholly apt to portray the demonic Lady, they border on the blowsy. Nor can she provide the visceral thrill we experience in the interpretations of previous exponents such as Callas whose cavernous low notes and portamento inflections really do incarnate “the voice of a she-devil” Verdi wanted. She manages the high piano D on her exit in the Sleepwalking Scene but it is only touched on and not eerily, delicately floated as it ideally should be.
Finally, on the debit side, Gwyn Hughes Jones’ voice is too light and too “British” to be a real Verdi tenor so his aria makes little impact.
The vocal honours go to bass Brindley Sherratt as a sonorous, imposing Banquo; his duets with Keenlyside are immaculately phrased, their voices always synchronised. The chorus is lusty and the orchestral playing far finer than has sometimes been the case with the ENO in previous years. Edward Gardner conducts with verve and gusto and Jeremy Sams’ English translation works really well, even for those of us already accustomed to the rhythms of the original Italian. The recorded sound is excellent: warm, balanced and immediate.
Yet none of these virtues much matter if the two principal singers do not measure up to the demands of their roles. The debate regarding the value and merit of opera in English is a contentious one but it seems to me that the ubiquity of surtitles and the availability of libretti have to some degree neutralised the arguments for it either live or in recordings. Ultimately it is the quality of the performance, regardless of the language an opera is sung in, that determines its desirability. Thus I would in preference to this recording direct you to the many established, classic studio versions such as those by Abbado, Gardelli, Leinsdorf and Muti with artists such as Cappuccilli with Verrett and Sass, Rysanek with Warren, and Milnes with Cossotto. If you want the original 1847 score sung by British artists, John Matheson’s excellent studio recording for Opera Rara with Rita Hunter and Peter Glossop is a safe recommendation. This Chandos recording provides, as a bonus, the alternative 1847 ending but Sherrill Milnes recorded excerpts from that for a 1974 recital album when he was in demonstrably better voice than Keenlyside here. The ne plus ultra amongst Lady Macbeths remains Callas, but sadly we have only a live 1952 performance in poor sound or the incomparable excerpts recorded with Rescigno. She never made a studio recording of the complete opera.
It is to any of those that I shall return before this latest issue from Chandos.