Performers: Leo Nucci, Shirley Verrett, Samuel Ramey. Director: Claude D’Anna. Conductor: Riccardo Chailly, Orchestra e coro del Teatro Communale di Bologna (1987).
Video: 4:3 full screen, Color
Audio: PCM stereo, DTS 5.1
Extras: Documentary: “The Making of Macbeth”
Length: 132 minutes
Who would have thought the old play would have had so much music in it? Considered one of Verdi’s second tier operas (just behind his other Shakespearan operas Otello and Falstaff), Macbeth is nonetheless filled with excellent duets, solos, and several well-timed ensemble pieces. Yet it is rarely performed and even more rarely recorded. A 2001 DVD with Thomas Hampson and Paoletta Marrocu has competent singing, a puzzling modernist setting, and Marrocu’s charming dominatrix costume. Now Universal has released a vastly superior French production with Shirley Verrett and Leo Nucci and it’s a must have for opera lovers.
This opera was filmed on location at the medieval castle of crusader Godfrey of Bouillon (1060-1100). The first scene with the witches is choreographed with topless female acrobats (discreetly shadowed) who lumber about like simian hominids. With their raggedy hair and blue lighting, they are truly scary creatures, enhanced by Chailly’s rhythmic displacement and odd woodwind sonorities. As Macbeth, Nucci is perfectly cast. His rich baritone voice allies with Samuel Rami’s bass in the ominous aria “Due vaticini.” Of course the real drama occurs later, when Verrett’s Lady Macbeth sings her double aria “Vieni! t’affretta” — you’re hooked unless you have ice water in your veins. Their interactions with each other are riveting, both alone and in the public hall where Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost. At 55, Verrett manages to radiate a deadly sensuality, a point that Clause D’Anna drives home with his directions on how to help Macbeth wipe clean his bloody dagger. Verrett sings both soprano and mezzo-soprano roles, so her range is astounding. Nowhere is this more apparent than in her rendition of “Una macchia” (“Out, damned spot”), a mad scene considered one of the young Verdi’s best solo creations. Chailly’s orchestral accompaniment is stellar. Universal’s re-engineering older performances for DTS 5.1 is usually successful (see previous reviews of the Ring Cycle and the Monteverdi operas). Here the sound is particularly effective in the great hall and battle scenes, and of course all scenes in which the witches appear.
With its portrait of the obsessive film director Claude D’Anna, the extra is worth watching once, although how did they know they’d need it for a DVD back in 1987? The part that shows the mechanics of a voiceover (featuring a slightly perplexed Verrett) is oddly compelling.
— Peter Bates