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Monday, August 25, 2014

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Macbeth

The Met revives the Scottish tragedy (not Lucia) for Anna Netrebko. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A dame to kill for: a bewigged Anna Netrebko in Martin Kušej' Munich  Macbeth.
Photo © 2014 Bayerische Staatsoper.
The Metropolitan Opera is hoping that Giuseppe Verdi's operatic adaptation of Shakespeare's bloody tragedy will translate into good box office gold by casting Russian superstar Anna Netrebko in the key role of Lady Macbeth. The soprano recently sang the role in Munich at the Bayerische Staatsoper.

There are a number of key differences between the Shakespeare play and the opera. Verdi wrote for three choruses of witches, the role of King Duncan is mimed, and the revolutionaries in the last act stop to sing a chorus before bringing Birnham Wood to Dunsanane. That said, the opera can equal the play in dramatic effect, thanks to the hair-raising orchestration and the Sleepwalking Scene, a tour de force for the soprano.
This revival of Adrian Noble's stark, military-inflected 2007 production (there are tanks and machine guns in his Scotland) returns Serbian baritone Željko Lucic to the title role opposite Ms. Netrebko. With René Pape in the key role of Banquo and Joseph Calleja in the small but crucial tenor role of Macduff, this is a dark and fascinating choice to take the stage early in the season. Met principal conductor Fabio Luisi leads the orchestra.

 Macbeth opens Sept. 24. A MET Live in HD is scheduled for Oct. 11.

 Recording Recommendations:
It's not the most commonly heard Verdi opera, but conductors and singers have made many recordings of Macbeth over the last 50 years. Here are two classics:

Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus cond. Erich Leinsdorf (RCA/Sony 1959)Macbeth: Leonard Warren
Lady Macbeth: Leonie Rysanek
Banquo: Jerome Hines
Macduff: Carlo Bergonzi
Featuring the late, great Leonard Warren, a singer who died onstage at the old Metropolitan Opera House. (He did die during a Verdi opera, but it was Forza, not Macbeth.) The cast features luminaries Leonie Rysanek as his good Lady, and Carlo Bergonzi as luxury casting in the small role of Macduff. Essential, and now a dirt-cheap download from

Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala cond. Claudio Abbado (DG, 1976)
Macbeth: Piero Cappucilli
Lady Macbeth: Shirley Verrett
Banquo: Nicolai Ghiaurov
Macduff: Plácido Domingo
This is one of the best opera recordings in the series made by the late great Claudio Abbado with the La Scala forces in the 1970s. Shirley Verrett is a hellacious Lady Macbeth, more than a match for her husband played by the great (and underrated) Piero Cappuccilli. An at-his-early-peak Plácido Domingo is almost luxury casting as Macduff. Mr. Abbado was a skilled, dedicated Verdian and the engineering is top-notch.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats