Although it had already been staged in Novara in 2013 and had been the object of countless reviews and comments, this production of Verdi’s Macbeth was still eagerly awaited with a blend of curiosity and skepticism for its first revival at the Teatro Verdi of  Pisa, its coproducer.. The reason for such interest was the name of Dario Argento as the stage director.  This Macbeth was his first approach to opera staging: I have described his appeal and name recognition in Italy when I reviewed his second operatic production, Lucia di Lammermoor, just last month in Genoa.  Shakespeare’s grisly work seems to be a better fit for the so-called Italian Master of Horror, who however offered a basically traditional mise-en-scène peppered with gory special effects.  Transposed to the early twentieth century (and this has become by now a tradition in itself) and more specifically during and right after War world One, it had some successful moments alternating with frankly boring ones; the first ones included the witches – three as in Shakespeare – comely young women completely nude (apparently an idée fixe of his, considering that a disrobed buxom woman appeared as the ghost haunting Lucia), feral creatures with dishevelled hair, an obvious reference to one of his last films, Mother of Tears.  They hissed but did not sing, a task reserved for  the female chorus dressed as farmer’s wives.  Other allusions to his movies were the hanged men resembling the doll that so frightens Amanda Righetti in Deep Red, a film that also inspired Duncan’s assassination: the bloody king trying to escape through the window brings to memory the famous scene of psychic Helga Ulmann’s murder.  Particularly brutal and successful was the decidedly over the top death scene of the protagonist: I am aware to be in the minority here because apparently it was received with giggles and chuckles at every performance.  Indefensible was on the contrary the scene where Macbeth, just before getting killed, during the orchestral fugue that should describe the battle, wanders about the stage pointing at big white circles projected on the background, supposedly representing the gunfires.  Such dreary atmosphere well matched the spartan sets of Angelo Linzalata, while costumes were not credited.  Recapitulating, this production, while hardly original, managed to keep the audience’s attention, and it would have been more enjoyable if details about its principal scenes had not been leaked.

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Simon Krečič conducted the Orchestra of the Festival Pucciniano with a good deal of intensity and forward momentum, with all musical lines clearly and firmly drawn.  At times, though he seemed impatient with the music, and rushed it in a way that made the composer’s effects sound perfunctory – the introduction to “Vieni t’affretta” is a good example: it sounded almost flippant, like something from a Rossini comic opera.  I missed a sense of suspenseful repose, of brooding mystery, in such episodes as Lady Macbeth’s “Regna il sogno su tutti” or Banquo’s “Oh, qual orrenda notte!”. He worked wonders to keep together pit and stage, particularly when on stage was Dimitra Theodossiu, responsible for one of those performances I truly do not enjoy reviewing.  Since the very beginning the Greek soprano has distinguished herself for the emotional involvement she brings to every role, and has often been labelled a singing actress; unfortunately she has reached the point when the emphasis is less on the singer than the actress, and is forced to resort to histrionics in order to mask an undeniable vocal decline: the difficulty to find a support produces a weak middle/low register and strident, not infrequently flat high notes, such as the short shrill D flat at the conclusion of the Sleepwalking scene, cagily sung off stage.  Because of increasingly shorter breaths she was often behind the beat, engaging in a tug of war with the conductor.

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Emanuele Servidio (Macduff) has a powerful voice full of flaws of which a wobble in the central register and a fibrous harsh top are the most evident.  Giorgio Giuseppini (Banco) is one of the most underrated singers of our time; although he has an impressive resume (I remember with pleasure his Met debut as Filippo II in Don Carlo), his authentic bass, homogeneous, smooth, pliable voice production, aristocratic phrasing and imposing stage presence should automatically place him in the so-called A list.  Though in the 1865 final revision Verdi moved the barycentre of the opera towards the soprano (even the Great Ones make mistakes, and a big one was to replace “Mal per me che m’affidai” with a banal, insignificant and theatrically less effective fugue chorus) the title role still remains the fulcrum of the work, a task brilliantly fulfilled by Giuseppe Altomare, a baritone with a dark and virile timbre, imaginative fraseggio, a declamato that never turns into shouts, capable of producing authentic mezzevoci, a crucial skill for this part that – Verdi docet – must be sung mostly piano, only to explode on key phrases explicitly indicated by the composer.  After a cautious start and a couple of thin high notes (for example the F in the phrase “che m’offre il fato”), Altomare gave a performance in crescendo culminating with a beautiful “Pietà, rispetto, amore”, sung with with a nice legato and a secure top (the same note, F natural, on the word “bestemmia” was here full and round), a truly moving rendition that succeeded in making the audience sympathise with a mass murderer anti-hero, which was after all Verdi’s intention.

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Among the secondary roles, Elena Bakanova stood out for her self-confidence and ability to dominate the ensembles with her squillo; the light tenor Emanuele Giannino as Malcom was an appropriate contrast to Servidio’s darker timbre, whereas Juan José Navarro as the Doctor manifested serious problems in projecting the sound.  The chorus, Artisti del Coro di Parma, was quite good, especially the female sections.

For the record, the audience greeted everyone with a long applause, though Giuseppini and Altomare were clearly the favourites, while directing some dissent towards Dario Argento.

Nicola Lischi

three stars

photo credit: Giulia Ponti

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