A Lady Macbeth to Be Reckoned With

United StatesUnited States  Verdi, Macbeth: (Met Opera HD Broadcast): Soloists, Metropolitan Opera and Chorus, Fabio Luisi (conductor), New York, NY, 11.10.14 (RDA)

All the recent behind-the-scenes drama that has plagued the Metropolitan Opera is over. With that turmoil eliminated, at least for the moment, the company can focus its energies on the onstage goings-on, and there is no better opera to provide an outlet for the creative energies of the largest opera company in the United States than Verdi’s Macbeth.

As is the case with the Shakespeare play on which it is based, the Verdi opera provides a splendid vehicle for two star interpreters, and the current production satisfies the expectations of many—if not all—opera fans, some of which still live with memories of past performances with the likes of Leonard Warren and Leonie Rysanek as the power couple from Hades.

But now we have in Anna Netrebko a Lady Macbeth to be reckoned with. The Russian soprano has grown into a fine interpreter of one of the most demanding roles in the Verdi canon. With a resume filled with roles like Donizetti’s Norina and Puccini’s Mimi, Ms. Netrebko surprisingly fulfills the larger requirements of the part of Lady Macbeth, among them the ability to half-sing, half-speak, using the voice in that quasi parlando of which Verdi was so fond.

She puts that technique most chillingly to use in the sleepwalking scene. Elsewhere, Ms. Netrebko summons a voice capable of both full-out singing and melting mezza-voce seductiveness in a variety of colors which she puts at the service of the text by Piave and Maffei. Verdi and his librettists did their best to hold on to the inescapable signature moments in the play, such as the several intimate scenes between the two protagonists, instances in which we learn the identity of the driving force behind the human killing machine that will soon sit on the throne of Scotland.

In conflating the text of the play (Shakespeare’s shortest, by the way), Verdi’s opera loses some of the subtlety, while gaining in terms of speed and forward drive—a necessary transaction in the translating of the episodic character of Elizabethan drama into 19th-century melodrama.

From his very first entrance, boastfully singing “Giorno non vidi mai”, to his final encircling by the English forces, Serbian baritone Željko Lučić is a very good Macbeth. And he is the real deal: a Verdian baritone with the capacity to handle the tricky vocalism demanded by the borderline madness of the banquet and apparitions scenes, and then able to turn on a dime and sing a seamless legato in “Pietà, rispettto, amore” at day’s end. In between, Lučić holds his own dramatically and vocally, in a modern-dress production in which Macbeth is more of a mid-level military fellow out of his league than a future—though flawed—leader-in-the-making. In his mid-forties, the baritone is now at the top of his game.

The rest of the cast is up to the task. Quick to disappear early in Act II, bass René Pape delivers a fine “Come dal ciel precipita.” In the brief role of Macduff, tenor Joseph Calleja sings a very good “Dalla paterna mano.” The Met chorus is, simply said, the finest ever,  anywhere. They sing sublimely in the Scottish Prisoner’s chorus, and hoot, cackle and squeal with panache in the various Witches’ entrances.

Fabio Luisi leads the Met orchestra as the great Verdi conductor he is. Every minute he has an eye on stage and an ear listening to the pit, holding together the tricky concertato at the end of Act I, then helming the huge ensemble at the end of the Banquet Scene. All the while he leads principals, chorus and orchestra with a true feel for the long-phrased Verdi melodies that provide the score’s backbone.

More than most operas that are subjected to directorial caprice and senseless transplanting, Verdi’s Shakespeare settings—Otello, Falstaff and Macbeth—work in a variety of incarnations, simply because the Bard’s originals do, and so does this sober and sensible production of Macbeth by Adrian Noble.  The text and costumes by Mark Thompson are appropriately somber, outside of a couple of drop-dead, off-the-shoulder couture numbers worn by Netrebko.

Rafael de Acha

For a second opinion on same production see Met Live 

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