Defending the 12th century since the 14th; blogging since the 21st.

Catholicism, Conservatism, the Middle Ages, Opera, and Historical and Literary Objets d'Art blogged by a suburban dad who teaches law and writes stuff.

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Who was Cacciaguida? See Dante's PARADISO, Cantos XV, XVI, & XVII.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008
Well I listened to the Met broadcast of Verdi's MACBETH this afternoon. I haven't seen Adrian Noble's 20th-century-set production. From what I've read about it, I think I could go for it: I'm not utterly bigoted against non-traditional productions, only against the kind that shriek Look Ma I'm Directing.

It makes sense to show the Macbeths as a modern-day ambitious power-couple (doesn't it, though), and to show the Scottish refugees in a place that looks like -- gosh, a refugee camp, complete with jeep and bored guard (not border guard, though, yeah, probably one of those too).

N.B. It was Verdi who added the refugees. He was very interested in choruses of exiles, like the famous one in NABUCCO ("Va pensiero"). In MACBETH, this scene takes the place of the long dialogue in which Malcolm fakes out Macduff to test his moral fiber, a scene that wouldn't operatize well.

Apart from that, Shakespeare's play translates to opera very well. Lady Macbeth's entrance scene, as written by Shakespeare, even has the classic structure of the entrance scene of a heroine in bel canto opera: a recitative ("'They met me on the day'/Glamis thou art, and Cawdor"), an aria ("Hie thee hither"), an interruption by messenger or attendant (the former, in this case), and a cabaletta ("The raven himself is hoarse"). And so we get "'Nel di della vittoria'/Ambizioso spirito," "Vieni t'affretta, and "Or tutti sorgete." ("Or tutti sorgete" is the show-stopper, but I like "Vieni t'affretta" best.)

And the sleepwalking scene? Made for opera! "Una macchia...." ("A spot....")

Our Macbeth today was Zeljko Lucic. With a name like that, you're either a star at the Met or defendant at the Hague. He's the former, and a Verdi baritone strongly reminiscent of Cornell Macneil, which is high praise.

More controversial was our Lady Macbeth, Maria Guleghina. "Ghouleghina," some have been calling her, and the reference is to the condition of her voice. It's all right for Lady Macbeth to sound scary, but the source of the fright shouldn't be whether or not she'll have the next high note or be on pitch in the next roulade. The answer was always yes for Ms. Guleghina today -- it just didn't sound very good. I'm sure she got her effects dramatically, but I couldn't help noticing that the Saturday matinee audience -- notoriously easy to please -- didn't exactly give it up for Ms. G., either after her arias or at curtain calls.

(Andrea Gruber is doing some performances of Lady Macbeth this season. Last season she sang the broadcast of TURANDOT: I thought she was fine, but most of The List thought she was goshawful, so go know. If anybody has heard her Lady M. this year, please comment.)

In the smaller roles, bass John Relyea boomed it out a treat as Banquo, and New York-native tenor Dimitri Pittas showed promise in the lirico department as Macduff. In the thankless role of Malcolm (a second tenor, overshowed by primo tenore Macduff, itself not a great role), Russell Thomas showed dramatic-tenor potential: nice and clarion -- he almost had me cutting down a branch for the march on Scotland.

James Levine clearly loves this score, and lingered over its riches so as to make it sound like "later" Verdi than it actually is.