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Verdi’s Macbeth in Concert at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Performances of Verdi’s Macbeth take shape and leave an overall impression from both individual and collective emphases.

Verdi’s Macbeth in Concert at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: Luca Salsi


Such a memorable interpretation is offered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under its music director Riccardo Muti in its current series of concert performances celebrating the Verdi anniversary. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are performed by Luca Salsi and Tatiana Serjan. The roles of Banco and Macduff are sung, respectively, by Dmitry Belosselskiy and Francesco Meli. The Chicago Symphony chorus is prepared by Duane Wolfe.

The orchestral introduction to Macbeth prefigures a number of musical themes that will take on individual importance during the four acts of the opera. In this performance tempos were at first decidedly rapid with only several of the lyrical string passages taken at a more measured pace. The ensuing chorus of witches sang with a comparable forward drive until the first scene featuring Macbeth and Banco as they hear the predictions of future rule. Mr. Salsi seemed effectively perturbed by the witches from the very start and this reaction is evident in his vocal approach. His searching and introspective tone leads to an internalization of some vocal passages so that other lines sung at full voice take on added effect. When Salsi declares “La man rapace non alzerò” [“I shall not raise a murderous hand”] his final pitches swell upward yet still express his determination with the impression of ambivalence. Alternately, Mr. Belosselskiy’s Banco in these early scenes released his pronouncements with an assured and powerful conviction in those very beliefs.

In the followings scenes introducing Lady Macbeth Ms. Serjan established her approach to this complex role. Her precise reading of the letter from Macbeth was followed by a spirited performance of Lady Macbeth’s aria, “Ambizioso spirto … Viene! t’sffretta!” [“Ambitious soul … Come! Hurry!”]. Serjan’s lower register is impressive and she used it effectively. Her decorations on the ascending “pone” and “freddo core” [“cold heart”] were well executed, yet when Serjan sings higher pitches one notes more directly her shift to a differing vocal approach rather than an integrated conception of the character. The following cabaletta, “Or tutti sorgete, ministri infernali’ [“Arise, all ministers of Hell”], was marked by the same conflation of vocal techniques, although excitement built on her good sense for legato and decoration in the final verses. The repeat was taken in this performance.

In those scenes detailing the King’s murder by Macbeth at the urging of the Lady conspiratorial exchanges between the royal couple were sung with alternating piano and dramatic effects. When Macbeth sees the image of the dagger stained with blood even before his deed, Salsi’s expressive intonation on “Orrenda imago!” emphasizes the chilling sight, whereas much of the remainder of his monologue is sung in a hushed internalization. Salsi’s projection of Macbeth’s determination to stab King Duncan rises again on “È deciso” (“It is decided”), from which point he cannot retreat. Once Macduff and Banco enter and discover the King’s murder, the quartet of principal singers is united with the chorus in excited outbursts prefiguring the subsequent acts. Belosselskiy’s extended low notes culminating on “si senti il tremor” (“the shaking was felt”) evoked the omens of evil reflected that night in nature. Mr. Meli’s declaration of the crime was poignantly expressed at full voice as the royal pair feigned ignorance. At the close of Act I, as in several other scenes, the orchestra and chorus dominated in a volume greater than necessary, since the solo singers were not distinctly audible in several key lines.

Act II of Macbeth includes significant vocal pieces for Lady Macbeth and Banco as well as a progression in the persona of Macbeth. Ms. Serjan’s “La luce langue” (“The light is fading”) imitated the pallid sense of dusk in her delivery and rose to declarations of ambition toward the close (“O scettro, alfin sei mio!” [“O scepter, at last you are mine!”]. The assassins of the chorus who have agreed to murder Banco, while advancing Macbeth’s plan, received excellent orchestral accompaniment with Matthieu Dufour’s flute suggesting the stealth of a planned attack. As Banco entered with his son, premonitions from nature were again emphasized. “queste Tenèbre” (“these shadows”) was sung by Belosselskiy with rich, dark bass pitches calling forth the danger of these surroundings. The wealth of emotions achieved in Belosselskiy’s exciting vocal range surged with anticipation. His voice rose to fearsome declaimed high notes on “ingombrano” and “terror” (“cloud” and “fear”), before he urged his son’s flight as he himself was killed. In her brindisi, “Si colmi il calice,” (“Fill your goblet”) Serjan used decoration sparingly in her attempt to lighten the mood at the banquet after Banco’s murder. The appearance of Banco’s ghost to the mind and eyes of Macbeth alone caused a notable transformation in Salsi’s projection of character. As the Lady tried to stabilize her husband’s public reaction, Act II ended with notably strong forte singing by Simge Büyükedes and Meli as the Lady-in-Waiting and Macduff.

In Act III of this performance the ballet music from the 1865 revision of Macbeth was included with contributions by Messrs. Sharp, McGill, and Dufour playing cello, bassoon, and flute adding significantly to an overall effective performance. During this act Macbeth visits the witches yet again and is confronted as well by three apparitions issuing him warnings. These predictions, as declaimed chillingly by David Govertsen Katelyn Casey, and Lily Shorney, were met with a brooding inwardness by Macbeth. Salsi began, however, to sing with renewed dramatic force when he saw a procession of those kings who had passed on before. He struggled with the further image of Banco’s descendants (“spaventosa imagine” [“dreadful vision”]), until the witches bring him to his senses and into the company of Lady Macbeth. Both resolve to thwart any such possibility in their control of power and swear “Vendetta!” to close the act.

The choral introduction of Scottish refugees at the start of Act IV was sung movingly and at a tempo suggestive of a dirge. Immediately following this pessimistic recital of woe, Macduff issues his solo lament and his promise of renewed efforts against “quel tiranno” (“that tyrant”). Mr. Meli’s performance of Macduff’s aria was surely one of the highlights of this evening. The alternation between pure top notes and legato phrasing as Meli built on the expressive intensity of Macduff’s resolve was a model of Verdian tenor singing. The lines “colui le braccia … perdono aprir” (“open your arms to him in pardon”) were a culmination of suffering and determination expressed here with consummate vocal control. Directly after this scene the famous aria of Lady Macbeth “Una macchia” (“A spot”) is sung as she walks in her sleep witnessed by the doctor and her Lady-in-Waiting. Serjan used alternating vocal registers intelligently while shading her voice to piano at appropriate moments. High notes were touched upon fleetingly as Serjan’s portrayal of character moved through a gripping emotional slide.

This opportunity to hear Verdi’s Macbeth performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and featured soloists is a fitting tribute in this anniversary year of Verdi’s birth. Further performances will include the Requiem Mass which will also be projected as a webcast.

Salvatore Calomino

Cast and production information:

Macbeth, general of King Duncan’s army: Luca Salsi; Lady Macbeth, Macbeth’s wife: Tatiana Serjan; Banquo, general of King Duncan’s army: Dmitry Belosselskiy; Macduff, nobleman of Scotland, Thane of Fife: Francesco Meli; Malcolm, Duncan’s son: Antonello Ceron; Lady-in-Waiting: Simge Büyükedes; Assassin/Doctor: Gianluca Buratto; Servant/Herald: Daniel Eifert; Three Apparitions: David Govertsen, Katelyn Casey, Lily Shorney. Chicago Symphony Chorus (Duain Wolfe, Chorus Director). Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Riccardo Muti, conductor.

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