09 Oct 2013
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.
“Hi! I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Performances of Verdi’s Macbeth take shape and leave an overall impression from both individual and collective emphases.
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.
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.