This is an excellent Macbeth in virtually every respect: high marks must go to both the cast, led by Simon Keenlyside and Liudmyla Monastyrska, and the orchestra under the deft baton of Antonio Pappano. But let us not overlook the brilliant and imaginative stage director Phyllida Lloyd, whose work I'll examine shortly. With so many strengths, even down to the costuming and lighting (or subtle lack of it), and with no perceptible weaknesses anywhere, this must be counted as one of the finest Verdi productions on DVD in recent years.
Soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska is a superstar in development. She has a powerful, beautiful voice: listen to how it soars above the chorus, notably in several passages in the closing scene of Act I. Her Or tutti sorgete is splendidly sinister and beautifully sung, with a powerful, rousing close. Her La luce langue is another highpoint here. The intensity she projects in the first half of the opera is remarkable but, in line with her character's development, she gradually tones down her coldness and austere manner to become at least capable of feeling guilt. (Try her Una macchia è qui tuttora, where Monastyrska deftly portrays Lady Macbeth being driven mad by her guilt.) Keenlyside, on the other hand, begins appropriately as a mild-mannered sort of fellow, but then grows more ruthless and amoral as the story develops. His vocal resources are impressive too. The other singers in the cast, Raymond Aceto as Banquo in particular, turn in splendid work as well.
As suggested above, Antonio Pappano leads the orchestra with a knowing hand. His take on this work is filled with tension and drama, with well chosen tempos and attention to meaningful detail. The orchestra follows his lead with total commitment and spirit throughout. The sound reproduction is vivid and the camera work is excellent. The sets and costuming in Phyllida Lloyd's production powerfully convey a dark, medieval sense: the walls are brownish cubes that seem to form a suffocating enclosure, a sort of prison for the characters. The gold cage in the Act II banquet scene in which Macbeth and Lady Macbeth celebrate their newly acquired regal status also serves a similar purpose. These imaginative Lloyd touches, as well the opening scene of Act III, wherein the witches dance around the now spinning gold cube housing the Macbeths, add to the grim, dark atmosphere of this production.
Back in 2006 I reviewed another Opus Arte DVD of Macbeth, which also featured Phyllida Lloyd as stage director, but with Carlos Alvarez and Maria Guleghina in the leads (Opus Arte DVD OA0922D). It too was excellent, though I would give an edge to Liudmyla Monastyrska over Guleghina. I reviewed a Naxos DVD of Macbeth in 2009, which featured Giuseppe Altomare and Ohla Zhuravel as well as other lesser-known stars, that was surprisingly good, though not quite on the level as the two Opus Arte productions. If I had to choose one of these Macbeths one for a desert island, it would have to be this new one featuring Keenlyside and Monastyrska. This is truly a remarkable union of the art of Verdi and Shakespeare!
Copyright © 2012 by Robert Cummings.