19 June 2016 | TheLittleSongbird
Verdi's Macbeth through the eyes of Dario Argento
'Macbeth' is for me the best of Verdi's early-period operas, if not quite top tier Verdi. Based on one of Shakespeare's best-known and best plays, the story is compelling if sometimes episodic, Lady Macbeth is very memorable characterisation and the music is simply wonderful, "Patria Opressa" being one of Verdi's most affecting choruses.
This 2015 production is interesting for being horror/thriller Dario Argento's first staged opera production, and while there are some fine things it doesn't come off completely successfully. Of the DVD competition, his 'Macbeth' is one of the lesser ones with the Violetta Urmana production just below it. The Glyndebourne, Nucci/Verrett, Royal Opera and Liceu performances are especially strong however, though the best production personally seen of 'Macbeth' is the 1976 Cappucilli, Verrett and Ghiaurov production.
Visually, it is minimal but often quite effective. Argento's staging has some inspired moments, such as the murder of Duncan, the end of Act 1, "La Luce Langue," the creepy characterisations of the witches, the reactions to the prophecy and the apparition scene. The first act in fact all round is very strong, and the gory moments work very well within the opera's dark and brutal nature. However, the further the production progresses the drama loses intensity and momentum and Argento's ambition lessens, giving some of the drama especially when it shifts a static flow. Act 4, apart from a haunting sleepwalking scene and a moving "Pietà, Rispetto, Amore", is particularly quite dull, with a rare instance of "Patria Opressa" and "Ah, La Paterna Mano" failing to move.
Musically, there is a huge amount to admire. The orchestra play with power and nuance and Giuseppe Sabbatini (who has a solid career as a tenor) gives an accommodating but dramatically urgent reading that enhances the theatricality and tragedy of the opera's drama. The chorus are a little disappointing however, with a lack of precision, some woolly balance and their acting doesn't seem very involved and lacks emotion and urgency, a huge part of why their Act 4 choruses fell flat.
Dimitra Theodossiou thrillingly curdles the blood as Lady Macbeth, and absolutely steals the show. There is a little wear in her voice but her experience in Bel Canto comes through loud and clear, and much of it is terrifically sung and has some wide and exciting use of vocal expression. Giuseppe Altomare is more than solid in the title role, a warm resonant sound and he successfully characterises Macbeth as a man dominated by his wife but who is driven by greed later on, so certainly not a weakling. Chemistry between the two Macbeths can make or break a performance of the opera, but luckily the chemistry here sizzles especially in Act 1.
Giorgio Giuseppini sings nobly as Banquo, especially in the expressively sung and sincerely acted "Come Dal Ciel Precipita", and he makes a strong impression as an actor. Sadly, Dario Di Vietri badly lets the side down as an extremely wooden Macduff and his very bleaty singing is no better, his rendition of "Ah, La Paterna Mano" almost interminable.
Technically for the DVD, video directing is expansive and unobtrusive, sometimes cinematic, and picture quality is clear and not blurred, unsteady or out of focus. The sound does lack bloom at times however.
All in all, interesting but not entirely successful. 6/10 Bethany Cox