Verdi: Macbeth

Giovanni Meoni Macbeth, Nadja Michael Lady Macbeth, Fabrizio Beggi Banco, Giuseppe Valentino Buzza Macduff, [Marco Ciaponi Malcolm, Valentina Marghinotti Lady Macbeth’s handmade, Federico Benetti doctor/servant,] Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Chorus, Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi
122:55 (2 CDs in a card box)
Glossa GCD 923411

This HIP performance of the original 1847 version of Verdi’s Macbeth is an absolute revelation. Already in the overture the more transparent orchestral texture allows the colours of Verdi’s subtle orchestration to come through, while the ensuing choruses and arias are also richly individual in texture, a fact of which I had hitherto been largely ignorant – and I have even played clarinet in a run of the opera many years ago! The solo voices are generally thoroughly impressive, with Giovanni Meoni’s beautifully lyrical Macbeth, Fabricio Beggi’s full-voiced Banco and Giuseppe Buffa’s dramatic Macduff all impressing – the latter a tenor and thus clearly the hero of the opera. Sadly Nadja Michael’s Lady Macbeth, although highly charged, is badly afflicted with such a wide vibrato that it is sometimes hard to tell which notes she is actually singing. This is a tragic bit of miscasting in a performance which is otherwise a model of clarity, as – to my ear – she not only squanders the opportunity for us to hear Lady Macbeth’s solo music more clearly than usual, but also introduces an upsetting degree of vibrato into the ensemble numbers in which she also participates. What a pity! Fortunately the singing of the chorus and the playing of the orchestral forces is thoroughly on-message as they deliver a wonderfully clear account of Verdi’s music. The brass add a punch and poignancy to the texture without overwhelming the balance, the woodwind are allowed to contribute their individual colours without being drowned by the strings, which in turn make a wonderfully incisive contribution. Verdi’s debt to previous masters such as Rossini and even Weber becomes apparent in his deft orchestral writing. I don’t want to cruelly over-emphasise my dislike of Nadja Michael’s performance, but because Verdi wishes to make full use of his dramatic heroine while she is still around, she dominates much of the first half of the opera, and to my mind sabotages the laudable aims of this project. When she disappears on CD II (apart from her mad scene) things are much more comfortable. If you think I exaggerate, just listen to this mad scene, where she takes the opportunity of Verdi’s chromatic idiom to slide all over the place above and mainly below her written notes… How on earth did nobody notice before it came to committing this otherwise excellent performance to CD? So, while this makes the CD something of a curate’s egg, I would still heartily recommend it for the spectacularly new light it casts on this very familiar music, and the way it enhances Verdi’s skills as a composer. Just programme out Lady Macbeth!

D. James Ross