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The World of Composer Richard Wagner and his operas. www.wagneroperas.com with frequent forays into the world of art, culture, and film.

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Vincent Vargas is a foreign language teacher at a private school in New York City. He runs websites dedicated to Casablanca (www.vincasa.com) and Richard Wagner (www.wagneroperas.com).

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Verdi's Macbeth at the MET

The trick with the early operas of Giuseppe Verdi, from the conductor's point of view, is to treat them with the same respect as his mature works. Riccardo Muti has been known to remind his musicians that with such a work as Falstaff they have lots of notes with which to create a world, and that even though the early works offer fewer notes, a world has to be created just the same.

Luckily, this is the approach that Fabio Luisi has taken at the Metropolitan Opera with this year's performances of Macbeth. He has conducted this early 1847 work (it was the composer's tenth opera) with utmost care; certainly going way beyond merely providing metronomic accompaniment to the oompah-pah nature of the score, and trying to find the  Shakespearean realm in a work which, although is highly influenced by the bel-canto works of Bellini and Donizetti, is definitely looking forward, trying to push the boundaries, and re-invent the Italian lyric theater.

Anna Netrebko and Željko Lučić, both in top form as the murderous couple, head a cast that also includes German superstar bass René Pape as Banquo and Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja as Macduff. Netrebko's voice has darkened, achieving the perfect timbre for Lady Macbeth, while Lučić's baritone (a voice similar to the legendary Leonard Warren, who first sang this role at the MET) was a solid personification of the title role. This is an artist whose voice usually is described as dry, but on Wednesday of last week he was in top form. In fact, every member of the cast sang with distinction, and if perhaps Calleja's tone is exhibiting a heavy vibrato these days, his rendition of "Ah, la paterna mano" was sung with true Verdian style.

The updated production by Adrian Noble holds up well, although, at times the direction given to the chorus of witches seems to be a bit too busy.

All in all, it was one of the rare times at the opera when everything worked.  How many times does one get a chance to admit that? Without a doubt, this run of Macbeth performances has been the highlight of the first part of this season.

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