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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Macbeth, Opera in 4 Acts. 1847 (Paris Version, 1865)
Macbeth: Roberto Frontali (bar); Lady Macbeth: Anna Pirozzi (sop); Banquo: Marko Mimica (bass); Macduff: Vincenzo Costanzo (ten); Malcolm: Manuel Pierattelli (ten); Doctor: Nicolò Ceriani (bass)
Orchestra, Chorus and Corps de Ballet of the Teatro Massimo/Gabriele Ferro
Dancers of the Emma Dante Company
Directed by Emma Dante; Set Designer, Carmione Maringola; Costume Designer, Vanessa Sannino; Lighting Designer, Christian Zucaro; Video Director, Matteo Ricchetti
rec. January 2017, Teatro Massimo, Palermo, Sicily
Sound Format DTS-HD/MA 5.0. PCM 2.0 Stereo. Filmed in HD 1080i. Aspect ratio 16:9
Booklet language: English
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Korean and Japanese
NAXOS Blu-Ray NBD0077V [156]

In 1846, Verdi was engaged to compose a new opera for Antonio Lanari, the impresario at Mantua. However, the contract was reassigned, by mutual agreement, to Antonio's father, Alessandro, himself an important impresario, and manager and director of Florence's Pergola Theatre. Birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence deemed itself 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 Freischütz and Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable, both of which featured plots involving diabolical forces. Verdi had two possible subjects in mind: the drama Die Ahnfrau by the Austrian poet and playwright Franz Grillparzer, which demanded a strong tenor, and Shakespeare's Macbeth, which needed a strong baritone. Since Lanari's company could provide only the latter, in the considerable person of Varesi, who would later create Rigoletto, Verdi chose Macbeth and the work was premiered on 14 March, 1847. It was a bold choice for Verdi; Shakespeare's play had not yet been staged in Italy, though it had been translated. As Florence was 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. When Macbeth was staged in Rome, the supernatural elements were excised and the witches became fortune-telling gypsies. In Naples and Palermo, it was not King Duncan who was murdered, but merely his head-of-staff, and in Austrian-occupied Milan, the exiles’ chorus Patria oppressa (CH. 30) ‘oppressed fatherland’, became Patria amata, ‘beloved fatherland’, and the phrase vil corona, ‘despicable crown’, was removed.

For the 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, his tenth opera of 1847, for performance at the Théâtre. Later, when a formal approach was made, Verdi’s 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. Verdi’s changes 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 (CH.16), 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, 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 finale Inno de Victoria as Macduff reports, to great rejoicing, that he has killed Macbeth (CH.34).

The premiere of Emma Dante’s production, which was scheduled for visits to Turin, Macerata and Edinburgh, has some unusual touches. The latter venue stirred memories as this opera launched the first Edinburgh International Festival in 1947. The unusual touches start early with a skeletal horse and wriggling masses of bodies under a large sheet extending over much of the stage. This is lifted to reveal masses of semi-naked bodies beneath. These witch dancers engage in much simulated copulatory activities with satyrs, which accounts for the baby bumps to be seen later on when Macbeth returns to consult the witches again in Act 3 (CH.23). It is a rare event when the hordes of people on stage are not moving about; the whole is a scene of frenetic activities, especially when the witches are involved, their number rather excessive at times. There is little “stand and sing” and other visuals are often idiosyncratic, such as Burnham Wood being a forest of cacti. Elsewhere in the staging, Macbeth is often represented as a lonely figure, at one stage sitting atop a crown of spears. However, the dramatic impact of Carmione Maringola’s sparse sets and staging is forceful and singularly effective at times, such as the appearance of Banquo’s ghost and the passage of kings (CH.26), when the orchestral playing under Gabriele Ferro is appropriately vibrant and chilling.

As to the singing, I am impressed by Roberto Frontali in the title role; his vocal nuance and tonal strength take me back to the 1990s when he was often seen at major international theatres. Less well known, Marko Mimica is impressive as Banquo whilst Anna Pirozzi sings and acts a formidably fearsome Lady Macbeth, exhibiting a wide variety of vocal colour, evident from the start of her opening scene (CHs.7-9) through to her sleepwalking (CHs. 34-35). Vincenzo Costanzo sings Macduff’s Act 4 aria with good open tone and expression, whilst fellow tenor Manuel Pierattelli’s Malcolm is heard to good effect in the last act, where Macbeth’s death scene included.

Robert J Farr


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