Davide Livermore’s cinematic Macbeth with Anna Netrebko at La Scala  

ItalyItaly Verdi, Macbeth: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala / Riccardo Chailly (conductor). Broadcast live from Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 7.12.2021. (GP)

Teatro alla Scala, Milan’s Macbeth (c) Brescia/Amisano

Director – Davide Livermore
Set designer – Giò Forma
Costume designer – Gianluca Falaschi
Lighting designer – Antonio Castro,
Video designer – D Work
Choreography – Daniel Ezrakow
Chorus Master – Bruno Casoni

Cast included:
Macbeth – Luca Salsi
Lady Macbeth – Anna Netrebko
Banco – Ildar Abdrazakov
Macduff – Francesco Meli
Malcolm – Iván Ayón Rivas

The opera season at Teatro alla Scala was inaugurated with great success on December 7th in the presence of the Head of State and with a sold-out theatre. The euphoria in the foyer was manifest upon entering the theatre, because the event was felt to be the end of a long period of closures due to the pandemic. The inaugural opera was Verdi’s Macbeth in the 1865 Paris version (now considered the reference version) with the addition of the final aria of the protagonist in the version staged at Teatro La Pergola in Florence in 1847. I will not deal with the opera itself, nor Shakespeare’s tragedy on which it is based, as they are well known.

The production unfolds briskly, with frequent changes of sets. It is developed in today’s (or tomorrow’s?) world, characterised by skyscrapers, scenes set on several levels, or in an lift. We are surrounded by a ‘horror story’ atmosphere, reminiscent of the film Gangs of New York. The fast and pressing pace, the continuous tension of a narrative at the centre of which there is the craving for power fits Verdi’s Macbeth well and is helped by the excellent acting of almost all the performers.

Director Davide Livermore conceived the show in a cinematographic or television style in order to increase the audience, and it was indeed possible to see and listen to the opening night in thirty cinemas, as well as on public TV channels Rai1 and Rai5 (where it reached an audience of 2,250,000) and even some networks outside Italy. Livermore did not say so, but it is possible that behind the television-film style there was also a banal – but sensible – ‘precautionary principle’: to create a production that could also be enjoyed outside the neoclassical splendours of Giuseppe Piermarini’s theatre in the event of any further restrictions due to a worsening of the epidemiological situation. I did not go to Milan because I was aware of these circumstances and we are in the middle of a new wave of the pandemic, so I watched the performance in the comfort of my home on my HiFi television. As a matter of fact, the performance seen on screen was quite different and more understandable than that seen at the theatre at La Scala. Several music critics complained about its lack of clarity, including the most authoritative Italian monthly of the sector, MUSICA.

As mentioned above, Macbeth’s final aria of 1847 was added to the 1865 version. It works, and in addition it gives Luca Salsi the opportunity to end with a great vocal piece, fitting the atmosphere of the production.

Riccardo Chailly’s conducting is precise, well-pace, as well as clear and in line with a production with dark tones and, at the same time, full of rhythm. The La Scala ensembles, ballet and chorus, were excellent.

Let us focus on the voices. In Macbeth, they are particularly important also because it is not a work in ‘musical numbers’, as is much of mid-nineteenth century Italian opera: Verdi has arias, ariosi, duets and ensemble pieces connected by recitatives and declamation that dig deep into the psychology of the characters.

The two protagonists, Macbeth and his Lady, have renounced having offspring for the sake of power (very clear in the unsex me section of Shakespeare’s tragedy). In this production, they are not only power-hungry and bloodthirsty, but also visibly psychopathic. There are three more minor characters, Banco who leaves the scene after the beginning of the second act; Macduff who has important lines in Act IV only; as well as Malcolm, whose resounding voice in the final act is the sign of redemption. Dark voices predominate. Macbeth and Banco are a baritone and a bass. For Lady Macbeth it takes – as Verdi said – a ‘dirty voice’ to fit the bill, perhaps what the composer had in mind was a soprano capable of descending to rather low registers (such as Maria Callas) or a mezzo soprano (like Shirley Verrett or Ekaterina Semenchuck, who will replace Anna Netrebko in the last performance).

Luca Salsi (Macbeth) and Anna Netrebko (Lady Macbeth) (c) Brescia/Amisano

The least appropriate assignment in this stellar cast seemed to me Anna Netrebko: about thirty years have passed since her debut in St Petersburg in the role of Mozart’s Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro and almost twenty since her triumphant La traviata in Salzburg. The initial aria ‘Ambizioso spirto’ was received with some dissent; she recovered for the rest of the performance, receiving much applause for the sleepwalking scene (‘Una macchia è qui tuttora’). Luca Salsi and Ildar Abdrazakov are well-rounded singers, both vocally and dramatically, but Salsi was visibly tired by his final aria. Francesco Meli’s voice as Macduff was, as always, generous and Iván Ayón Rivas (Malcolm) sang beautifully.

The production runs until 29 December at La Scala.

Giuseppe Pennisi

2 thoughts on “Davide Livermore’s cinematic <i>Macbeth</i> with Anna Netrebko at La Scala  ”

  1. No version of Macbeth, in the past or possibly in the future, could ever measure up to this version. I found it absolutely brilliant and visually powerful.

    The singing, set design, the chorus, the dancers, the acting and costumes – absolitely sublime – and so up to date in terms of the power and corruption that so many politicians and business leaders display in today’s world: a world of fast-paced individuals – almost like robots – looking at their mobiles without a care for others, reminiscent of the “Me” generation. That is, until they become refugees when escaping from tyranny and they realise how much has been taken from them.

    For some reason Anna Netrebko’s vibrant red dresses brought to mind Immelda Marcus! But could someone please enlighten me about the kind of bird chosen to adorn them.



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