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Giuseppe Verdi: Macbeth
Thomas Hampson (Macbeth), Paoletta Marrocu (Lady Macbeth), Roberto Scandiuzzi (Banquo), Luis Lima (Macduff), Liuba Chuchrova (Lady-in-waiting), Miroslav Christoff (Malcolm), Peter Kálmán (Doctor), Orchestra and Chorus of the Zurich Opera House, Jurg Hammerli (Chorus Master), Franz Welser-Möst (Conductor), David Pountney (Stage Director), Stefanos Lazaridis (Set Designer), Mary-Jeanne Lecca (Costume Designer), Jurgen Hoffmann (Lighting Designer), Vivienne Newport (Choreographer), Peter Hecker (Audio Producer), Thomas Grimm (TV Director)
Recorded at Zurich Opera House, 2001 - 141 min
Arthaus Musik Ref. #: 101563 - 16:9 PCM Stereo - Dolby Digital 5.1 - Region Code: 0
Booklet in English, French, and German - Subtitles in German, French, Italian, Spanish, and English

Verdi was an avid reader of Shakespeare and Shakespeare's Macbeth was the first of the Bard's plays he set to music. Verdi's Macbeth, with Francesco Piave as its librettist, premiered in 1847, achieving a great success in the first of its two versions. The second one, written in 1855 for the Paris Opera, improved upon the original with a few changes, notably the addition of the cabaletta “Vieni t'affretta” at the end of Lady Macbeth's “letter scene” and the addition of “La luce langue” in Act II. The superb “Patria oppressa” chorus of Scottish refugees is longer and better in the 1855 version, and the ending of Act III is dramatically tighter. All-told five or so changes are incorporated into most productions of Macbeth these days, using the 1855 additions.

The Zurich cast is headed by American baritone Thomas Hampson, who has been expanding his repertoire of late, to include dramatic baritone roles such as this one. Now in his mid-fifties, Hampson's voice has grown in size, gradually taking on the heft and squillo required to follow in the grand footsteps of Warren, Taddei, Cappuccilli, and Nucci. Hampson's voice is that of a high-lyric baritone, but it still does more than full justice to the cantilena moments – the “Due vaticini” duet with Banquo and the great Act III aria “Pietŕ, rispetto, amore.” The bigger moments of the role Hampson sings pretty well, but on his own terms. Memories of Giuseppe de Luca singing Rossini's Figaro back-to-back with Rigoletto come to mind... It is also exciting to hear Hampson give full value to all of Verdi's markings: sfogato, ppp, parlando, sul fiato... - something that often goes missing these days when big-voice baritones sing Macbeth in a “let-it-rip” manner. Hampson's handling of the “Perfidi, all anglo...” recitative that leads to his Act III aria is a masterful example of the variety of colors and inflections this superb artist has at his command; his ending of “Pietŕ, rispetto, amore” is impeccably brought down to a pianissimo on the final “...la nenia tua sarŕ.” In short, a great artist at the top of his game.

Soprano Paoletta Marrocu's approach to the role of Lady Macbeth is a throw-all-caution-to-the-winds one that perhaps Verdi would have liked. In a famous letter, the composer spoke of the ideal soprano for this role as being one who could embody absolute evil in both physical characterization and vocal quality. Marrocu's take on the Scottish Queen comes near to the Verdian conceit. She gives us a haggard, drug-addled, manipulative she-devil who only comes alive when there is bloodletting to be done. Rounding out the cast, basso Roberto Scandiuzzi is a sonorous, noble Banquo, most touching in his “Studia il passo...Come dal ciel precipita” scene with his young son in Act II. Tenor Luis Lima makes the most of the ungrateful supporting role of Macduff, delivering a potent “Ah, la paterna mano” in Act IV. Zurich “house-singers” Liuba Chuchrova, Miroslav Christoff and Peter Kálmán excel as the Lady-in-waiting, Malcolm, and the Physician, respectively.

The directorial choices of David Pountney are a post-modern, “Regie Theater” assemblage of the inventive, the puzzling and the silly, as in the densely symbolic proliferation of children waving tree branches for the Dunsinane Woods ending. The production features a series of Plexiglas and mirrored enclosures, in and out of which red-skirted witches come to do their stand-and-deliver choruses only to disappear until their next entrance. The principals are variously draped in collarless shirts, sequined vests and robes, prom dresses, boots and, in one instance, a tacky yellow-green terry-cloth schmatte for Macbeth, all this bathed in shadows or relentlessly white and glaring light. On the plus side, both the audio and video of this DVD are state-of-the-art and vintage Arthaus Musik. The DVD is handsomely packaged in a full-color case, with an informative multi-lingual booklet.

One goes to Macbeth for the baritone and his lady, not for the conductor. Here, Franz Welser-Möst does a workmanlike job of conducting this iconic middle-Verdi work. This DVD has a terrific performance by Hampson, a quirky but ultimately exciting Lady Macbeth and solid supporting performances by Scandiuzzi and Lima. My “desert island” DVD would bring back Hampson opposite Karita Mattila with Abbado, Muti, or Levine conducting. “ ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.”

Rafael de Acha




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