A Macbeth that would have pleased Verdi

Performance from the MET 2019 season
Conductor – Fabio Luisi  Production – Adrian Noble
Macbeth – Željko Lučić Banquo – René Pape Lady Macbeth – Anna Netrebko                         Macduff – Joseph Calleja

Verdi would have been happy with the results achieved by Adrian Noble and Fabio Luisi in this unfussy and straightforward production of Macbeth, just as he would have likewise been satisfied with the pairing of Anna Netrebko and Željko Lučić as the couple whose vaulting ambition (in Shakespeare’s words) leads to rack and ruin after they commit a string of murders to ascend the throne of Scotland only to rapidly descend into ignominy, suicide (hers) and his death at the hands of his avenging enemies.

Neither Željko Lučić nor Anna Netrebko offer much in the way of sheer vocal beauty. No need for that in this transitional work that preceded the lyrical beauties of Rigoletto and La traviata. Instead they offer exciting, high decibel singing coupled to honest acting. But then, if we are to believe Verdi’s writings about his 1847 Macbeth, the Maestro was not expecting vocal beauty from Marianna Barbieri-Nini, his Lady Macbeth, whom he described in his diary as “una donna con una voce brutta,” (a woman with an ugly voice) expecting instead of bel canto a full commitment to text and dramatic intention.

In that respect no one could ask more of Anna Netrebko, whose blazing performance is admirable notwithstanding patches of stridency and occasional off-pitch singing. Lučić is a convincing Macbeth: strong of voice and physical built, a good actor and a fine singer in a role deemed among the hardest in the Verdi baritone canon. The part lies high, and it calls for extended declamatory singing in the upper range of the baritone voice. There have been many other baritones who have gone on to essay the role of Macbeth at the MET but I cannot think of another singer active in the opera business today better suited to this role.

René Pape is a first-rate Banquo, dignified and vocally splendid in his aria Come dal ciel precipita. Joseph Calleja delivers a good performance capped by a stirring Dalla paterna mano. Special kudos to the always hard-working, good singing MET chorus, whose sopranos and mezzos are terrific as a coven of witches dressed like church ladies I would certainly not like to have as next door neighbors.

Rafael de Acha