Monastyrska; Keenlyside, Pittas, Aceto; Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden,
Pappano. Production: P. Lloyd. Opus Arte OA 1063 D (DVD) or OA BD7095 D (Blu-ray), 170 mins. (opera), 23 mins. (bonus), subtitled
An intensely musical performance by Simon Keenlyside in the title role and a deeply considered production by Phyllida Lloyd, each of them attuned to the sound and the sense of Verdi's music, put this Macbeth at the top of the DVD competition for this tricky opera. Keenlyside's performance is highly detailed in vocal terms. He can be dreamy or pensive, as well as tormented, as the role requires. The dagger monologue is sung with reserves of breath, and the final section of the Act II finale, "Sangue a me," is sung with the sort of Verdian legato that is supposedly extinct today. Verdi provided an unusually wide range of expression marks for this role, even more than in many of his later operas, and Keenlyside has worked them all into his portrayal as if he had thought up the ideas himself. As an actor, he gives every indication that he would be capable of carrying the role in Shakespeare's play.
Lloyd has done three important things. The first is that she tells the story clearly. In the opening scene, for example, we see Macbeth write the letter that will be delivered to Lady Macbeth in the second scene, and then we see it delivered. Second, Lloyd has come up with plausible solutions to the trickiest staging problems in this opera. The very long, usually boring stretch of offstage marching music for Duncan's arrival is here a highlight. We first see the procession in miniature, as the witches drag models of the royal party across the forestage. Then we see the real thing, almost larger than life, upstage. Little Fleance's escape after his father's murder is entirely plausible, because one of the witches guides him to a hiding place in a storm drain, where he doesn't have to outrun anyone. But Lloyd, having done the essentials of her job well, has also left room for theatrical inventions. Most of the ballet music is cut, but Lloyd retains the final, wispy movement of the aerial spirits. It accompanies a pantomime of the Macbeths' alternate, untaken path, in which they are adoring parents.
Conductor Antonio Pappano has raised his game in a real partnership with Lloyd. Sometimes the staging seems to generate the musical interpretation. Macbeth drops the dagger during the pause before the "Fatal mia donna" duet, precipitating the panicky allegro section. Macbeth gives his wife a sick, desperate kiss that jumpstarts the first ghastly chord of "La luce langue." Pappano captures the oddities in the orchestral spacings — the spare textures before "Fatal mia donna," the hints of Wagner's Ortrud and Telramund at the start of Act III, the skittering highest notes — with affection.
Liudmyla Monastyrska's Lady Macbeth is unusually well sung. The role in the 1865 version is a nasty vocal hybrid, but she does beautifully with the later style, sounding quite suitably apprehensive at the start of "La luce langue," as the plot spins. Elsewhere, in the earlier style, and almost alone among sopranos, she observes the staccato markings in "Or tutti sorgete" and has thought about why Verdi might have written them. (She makes them into a cackle of incipient delight.) The sleepwalking scene is admirable, with the final high D-flat wonderfully colored, as if she had glimpsed the abyss.
The video director, Sue Judd, mercifully has rendered Lloyd's production in a way that allows us to listen to the music — no pointless moving camera shots or ping-pong edits — and some distant establishing shots let us appreciate Lloyd's complete stage pictures.
WILLIAM R. BRAUN
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