Notes and Editorial Reviews
From the Glyndebourne Festival Opera 1972. Opera in Four Acts; Sung in Italian.
Stage Production: Michael Hadjimischev
Designer: Emanuele Luzzati
Televison Director: Dave Heather
Sound Format: PCM Stereo
Picture Format: 4:3
Menu Languages: German, French, English, Spanish
Subtitles Languages: Italian, German, French, English, Spanish
Region Code: 0 worldwide
Running Time: 146 mins.
This epic opera inspired by Shakespeare's tragic masterpiece was written in 1847, but did not receive its British premiere until 1938 when it was presented for the first time at Glyndebourne. The tragedy is a penetrating, concentrated, and harrowing study of the
ambition of Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth. In the end both seem to verge on hallucination and madness as they recoil from the mayhem they have created around them.
The production features an outstanding international cast, with the Greek baritone Kostas Paskalis in the title role and British star Josephine Barstow making an exciting debut as Lady Macbeth. Proceedings are conducted by the sympathetic baton of John Pritchard. The designer, Emanuele Luzzati, has created a series of stunning visual impressions, including the chilling witches' chorus, the sumptuous banquet at which Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo and Lady Macbeth's heart-rending sleepwalking scene.
R E V I E W:
VERDI Macbeth • John Pritchard, cond; Kostas Paskalis (Macbeth); Josephine Barstow (Lady Macbeth); James Morris (Banquo); Keith Erwen (Macduff); Glyndebourne Ch; London PO • ARTHAUS 102316 (DVD: 146:35) Live: Glyndebourne 1972
I had reasonably high expectations when I put this on, because of the standards one normally associates with the Glyndebourne Festival. Those expectations were not only met but in most ways surpassed by a gripping and terrifically sung performance.
The one weak link in this performance is the conducting of John Pritchard. It first becomes apparent in the orchestral introduction to Lady Macbeth’s reading of the letter and the accompaniment to “Vieni! T’affretta!” Pritchard fails to create the tension that is integral to the moment, and is inherent in the music; instead, it plods along mechanically. Throughout, he shows a lack of imagination in dynamic shading and pacing. Also, the tempo chosen for Macbeth’s “Pieta, rispetto, amore” is killingly slow, undermining the melodic sweep of the music. On the plus side, the orchestral and choral forces execute their music well, and in the more overtly dramatic moments Pritchard does provide good energy.
Based on her performance here, at the age of 31, I would have pegged Barstow for a level of major international stardom in the dramatic soprano repertoire that she never quite achieved. This realization of one of Verdi’s most difficult and taxing roles is as good as it gets. If she doesn’t have the remarkable range of colors that Callas brought to the role, she has everything else. She manages the coloratura with no sense of laboring, her top notes are free and wide open, and the quality of the voice perfectly conveys the hardness of the character without ever turning unpleasant on the ear. Her face is extremely expressive and her overall acting is very convincing. If there are a few moments when it might seem overdone, one must remember that she is filling a theater, and the video direction includes a lot of close-ups. The range of dynamics, from full-throat to a thread of sound, in the sleepwalking scene, is the work of a major artist.
Kostas Paskalis is a tremendous Macbeth. The Greek baritone did not have a big American career, but he was a leading baritone in European opera houses in the 1960s and 70s. His Macbeth compares favorably to any with which I am familiar. Leonard Warren had the most distinctive and big voice, but his acting was generalized in its gestures. Paskalis, particularly in the banquet scene, is utterly convincing. Again, some moments may seem excessive because of the close-up nature of the filming, but overall he exudes a very strong and convincing physical presence. The voice is firm, terrifically focused, and like Barstow he is capable of the full range of dynamics from a ringing, full-throated fortissimo to a whisper.
The young James Morris is a huge plus as Banquo, and the remainder of the cast is excellent. The production is traditional and effective, with sumptuous and convincing costumes. The set is dominated by dark colors, particularly blue, creating an appropriately oppressive atmosphere. Stained glass windows appear for the banquet scene. The outside scenes are dominated by rocks and boulders—and the whole has a claustrophobic feel to it that underlines the drama. The camera direction is by Dave Heather and is very effective. Heather trusts the music and the artists, doesn’t jump around too often and in fact frequently holds on a shot for a long time, so that the viewer can become absorbed in the action. One problem is inconsistency of sound quality. Singers fade in and out of focus. It is an annoyance, even if one gets used to it.
This may well be the finest video of Macbeth available. The Deutsche Oper production led by Sinopoli and featuring an effective Renato Bruson is damaged irreparably by the piercingly laser-like voice of Mara Zampieri. The Met’s 2008 performance with an effective Maria Guleghina and good conducting from Levine is weakened by a bland Macbeth (Željo Lu?i?). Thomas Hampson’s superb portrayal in Zurich, with very effective conducting from Franz Welser-Möst and a powerful Lady Macbeth in Paoletta Marrocu, will appeal to many, but traditionalists will be put off by the modernist staging. An attempt to film a non-staged performance in a real 10th-century castle, with Leo Nucci, Shirley Verrett, and Riccardo Chailly conducting the Bologna forces, falls flat because of obvious lip-synching and a sense of artificiality that pervades the production. It is hard to imagine a Verdi lover who will not be pleased by this Glyndebourne performance.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel Read less
Works on This Recording
Macbeth by Giuseppe Verdi
James Morris (Bass),
Josephine Barstow (Soprano),
Keith Erwen (Tenor),
Kostas Paskalis (Baritone),
Ian Caley (Tenor),
Rae Woodland (Soprano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra,
Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
Written: 1847/1865; Italy
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