A Dark and Sparse Buxton Macbeth Redeemed by Outstanding Singing


Buxton Festival 2017 [1] – Verdi, Macbeth (original 1847 version): Soloists, Buxton Festival Chorus, Northern Chamber Orchestra / Stephen Barlow (conductor). Opera House, Buxton, 7.7.2017. (RJF)


Macbeth (Stephen Gadd) & Kate Ladner (Lady Macbeth) (c) Robert Workman


Macbeth – Stephen Gadd
Lady Macbeth – Kate Ladner
Banquo – Oleg Tsibulko
Macduff – Jung Soo Yun
Malcolm – Luke Sinclair
Duncan – Ben Thapo
Lady-in-Waiting – Helen Bailey
Fleance – Charlie Lambert
Doctor – Richard Moore
Apparition – Phil Wilcox
Apparition – Molly O’Neill
Sicario – Stuart Orme


Director – Elijah Moshinsky
Set and Costume Designer – Russell Craig
Lighting Designer – Mike Gunning
Video Designer – Stanley Orwin-Fraser
Choreographer: Caroline Pope
Chorus Master: Matthew Morley

How many operas did Verdi write? The answer depends who you ask. Some years ago I heard Mark Elder suggest twenty-seven. Meanwhile I have seen the figure thirty-four suggested and argued. Certainly there are twenty-eight titles in the Verdi operatic oeuvre. It all comes down to the matter of re-writes. In the case of Macbeth there are two distinct versions with the same title, one the composer’s tenth opera composed for Florence and premiered in March 1847 and the second a major rewrite, complete with ballet, premiered at Paris’ Théàtre Lyrique in April 1865. The first version comes in the period of Verdi’s stirring Risorgimento operas when he, and much of his music, stirred up Italian patriotic feeling. It is raw and vital, lacking much of the orchestral sophistication of the later version. Many performances now conflate the two, inserting music and choruses from the first edition into the more often performed, second. This Buxton performance was pure and simple first version and was conducted with appropriate vigour and sense of style by Stephen Barlow, music director of the Festival.

As with the performances of Giovanni D’Arco in 2015 (review) Buxton imported renowned Verdi specialist Elijah Moshinsky to direct, and the designer was again Russell Craig. They also brought Australian soprano Kate Ladner back. Russell Craig’s staging was sparse to say the least as well as darkly lit. I had the thought that the costume cum uniform worn by Luke Sinclair as Malcolm, singing from an upper box, probably cost as much as the stage set! At least the costumes were in period and the lighting gave colour and variety, particularly when used with colour projections onto a front drop cloth gauze for the passing of the kings. If not quite as eerie as the 1970s Glyndebourne production, now available on DVD (Arthaus 102 316 see review), it was massively effective. In that production Josephine Barstow’s adoption of an occluded vocal tone was perhaps more akin to what Verdi wanted for his Lady. That as it might have been, at this performance Kate Ladner, who I had thought a little vocally stretched in Giovanni D’Arco, was outstanding, no other word will suffice. Full toned, expressive and with vocal clarity and committed acting to match, hers was a performance that I will cherish. If Stephen Gadd was not up to that standard, his was a committed acted performance that could perhaps have done with a little more vocal weight. Oleg Tsibulko was a smooth and sonorous Banquo who gave character as well as tonal beauty to his aria whilst Jung Soo Yun as Macduff was virile of voice and stature. The young chorus sang with appropriate virility and acted with commitment, particularly in Moshinsky’s representation of the hell of the witch’s coven.

There are further performances on Friday 14, Tuesday 18 and Friday 21 July at 7.15pm and on Tuesday 11 July at 2.30pm. It will even be worth the drive through the misty hills, if the weather is that way inclined, to set the scene for you.

Robert J Farr

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  1. Elijah moshinsky says:

    I find it is strange be referred to as ‘imported’. I have lived in London for 35 years and also directed a previous opera at Buxton as part of an early Verdi trilogy exploring the early operas in a theatre the size of which corresponds more closely to Verdi’s original demands. Russell Craig I see is not imported but Kate Ladner is described as Australian but not imported. The Korean tenor and the Moldavian bass are not considered imported.

    As for a Verdi expert, there is no such being. I have had a long career and have a particular inclination to explore the oeuvre of Verdi who I consider is often underrated.

    As for the style of singing in the production, the reviewer seems ignorant of the particular instructions that Verdi indicate that Macbeth should not be sung but acted. The voice often written to sung as a whisper. Which is exactly as Stephen Gadd did. The whole point of producing this early version was to perform it in the scale size it was written for.

    It was probably the premiere of a fully staged production of this version and revealed many unheard numbers sung and performed as Verdi wrote them.

    It also sounds as if the viewer wanted glitter and decoration rather than a more sophisticated and stark presentation. The set was brutalist and simple nothing was to distract from the psychological impetus of the work itself. The costumes were of no period simplicity and not Scottish Baronial of the 11th century.

    And why plug his review of a Glydebourne production of the other version of the piece?
    [This review has been edited]

    • Jim Pritchard says:

      Thank you for your comment on Robert’s review.

      It is a short one but ‘massively effective’ and much else suggests that it is overwhelmingly positive.

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