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David L. Kirk
Fanfare, March 2010

Macbeth is Verdi’s 10th opera, but in this intriguing score he has begun to move beyond the oompah-pah arrangements that characterize many of his early works. Eighteen years after the opera’s 1847 premiere, Verdi chose Macbeth to be revised for a production at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris. Piave, the original librettist, again collaborated with Verdi. The revised Italian libretto was translated into French by Charles Nuttier; however, the Italian is what has gained the most currency. Only occasionally are the French version and the original 1847 version produced and recorded as historical curiosities. A few productions use the 1865 edition, with some interpolations that were deleted when the original score was revised. The performance on this Naxos CD from Macerata uses the 1865 score without interpolations and cuts the act III ballet with chorus…Overall it is a worthy performance, one that builds in intensity and interest. I found Giuseppe Altomare to be an interesting Macbeth, especially in his scenes with Olha Zhuravel’s Lady Macbeth. (Does Lady M. have a first name?) Altomare’s Macbeth is almost a sympathetic character. Ambitious, yes, but the ambition pushed by his aggressive, controlling wife. Altomare is fine in the big arias, but he is particularly good in the conversational passages. The scenes between the Macbeths are riveting. He comes off as fearful and insecure, while she is chillingly cold-blooded. Ecate and her weird sisters, who open the show and offer prophecies around the cauldron, are the lesser witches in this production; Zhuravel’s Lady Macbeth is relentlessly mean and nasty. She must have come with a good dowry; a blushing bride she isn’t.

Zhuravel has a lot of tremolo, which she frequently uses to advantage. She can nail the top notes, and has a fair degree of vocal flexibility, but her production is variable—ranging from some warm liquid sounds to shrill and harsh. Verdi didn’t want an elegant singer in the role. He wanted someone whose voice was “hard, stifled, and dark.” Zhuravel certainly possesses some of those characteristics. I don’t want to imply that she’s a terrible Lady Macbeth. She isn’t. A terror, yes! Terrible, no…This is a live performance (also available on video) with audible stage noises and some applause. There is a dry, somewhat veiled sound to the proceedings. It’s a good performance of Macbeth, and a good bargain at Naxos’s price. The booklet contains a detailed plot synopsis tied to track numbers, but no libretto. An Italian-only text is accessible through the Naxos Web site.

Gavin Dixon
MusicWeb International, December 2009

I wouldn’t normally recommend CD buyers to take notice of the press quotes that accompany new releases, but I’m prepared to make an exception for this one, sporting as it does an encomium from no less an authority than MusicWeb International on the back of the case. The quote is taken from a review by Robert J. Farr of the DVD release of the same production [2.110258] and reads ‘Daniele Callegari gives Verdi’s creation its full due, matching the differing styles of the later and earlier music to give a cohesive whole’. I am happy to endorse that opinion with regard to the CD release, indeed the stylistic sympathy of the performers for the various aspects of Verdi’s art is the recording’s greatest strength. Farr’s point refers to the fact that the version of the score used in the production is the 1865 revision (sung in Italian), in which the 1847 original is supplemented with music of Verdi’s later style. He is right that Callegari maintains impressive dramatic and musical continuity in spite of these revisions.

Although a number of the cast are from Eastern Europe, this is distinctively Italian Verdi interpretation. From the point of view of the singing, the main benefit is consistently clear diction, while the main disadvantage (at least for me) is the continuous, heavy vibrato. Giuseppe Altomare, in the title role, was apparently a late addition to the cast, but you wouldn’t know. His voice is rich and characterful, although his intonation is a little shaky towards the top. He has a good range of colours and emotions, and in the absence of visuals, it is his performance that keeps the drama alive in the sound recording. Olha Zhuravel, as Lady Macbeth, is the most vibrato-laden of the soloists, which is not to my taste, although Verdi himself would have been unlikely to complain. In fact, the vibrato gives her voice impressive projection and, when required, a menacing intensity. Pavel Kudinov and Rubens Pelizzari give similarly convincing performances as Banco and Macduff respectively, the former with a noble, rich tone, the latter slighter lighter and more guttural, and both articulating the words with welcome clarity.

There is a certain amount of stage noise in the first act, which is not unduly distracting, but gives a tantalising suggestion of the visuals we are missing. Otherwise, the sound quality is of a very high standard. After having heard the recording, I was surprised to read that it was made in an outdoor arena with a very large stage, as neither of these factors has impinged on the audio quality. The balance between stage and pit is finely judged throughout and the clarity of the orchestra sound is impressive, although there is a slight tendency for the percussion to sound distant. The Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana sound distinctively Italian, and the light brass sound gives an internal balance within the orchestra that is easily lost with larger instruments in this country. The chorus, Coro Lirico Marchigiano ‘V. Bellini’ also deserve a mention. Again, there is more vibrato in the ladies’ voices than I would like, but the intonation and ensemble are excellent.

The presentation of the CD is to the usual serviceable, if not exceptional, Naxos standards. There is no libretto and even the linked webpage gives only the Italian. But the few stills from the production give the impression of a visual spectacle that was fully the equal of the musical drama presented here. All in all, this is a good ensemble performance, and if none of the soloists really excel, that is a testament to the high musical standards of the overall production. It is not the best recording of Macbeth out there, but it certainly does Verdi’s score full justice, and is worth considerably more than its diminutive price tag.

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