Verdi – Macbeth / Metropolitan Opera 2008 (2)

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One more thing w/r/t the trees. I should add that these are bare trees. Even in the battle scene near the end, what the soldiers ‘camouflage’ themselves with are not leafy branches, but sticks. Trees and pillars and sticks and things of this kind are often symbols of kingly power. No prizes for guessing why. But in this case there’s a sort of sterility theme going on. Which makes sense. Macbeth gets to be king, but his descendants will not rule. And he’s not a very good king, either. He and his rule are sterile, unnatural, and so on (his wife is also a little unnatural, by the standards of the day). And this is evident, visually, even from the beginning.

One more off-topic observation: one of the odd things I noticed about this opera watching this version of it is that it retains little pieces of the play’s early modern context but without much explanation – for example at one point Macbeth says that someone else had said ‘god preserve us’ or something like that and he wasn’t able to give the appropriate response – being unable to pray, or unable to say God or Jesus’s name is a classic sixteenth/seventeenth-century ‘check yourself before you wreck yourself’ moment.

But anyway. I was thinking again about Lady Macbeth’s “barnstorming” cabaletta. You could probably argue that her brindisi in Act II (“si colmi i calici”) is cut from a similar pattern:

I love how the entire party, including Lady Macbeth herself, start dancing along with it. When I started thinking about it, a character who could assist in several murders and then skip along with this is certainly capable of invoking the spirits of hell to the tune of ‘or tutti sorgete’ – there’s a kind of crazy consistency to it.

In general Maria Guleghina is a very Lady Macbeth-y Lady Macbeth. She has been given a slightly alarming manicure, for one thing, but this was more of an added bonus in terms of characterization rather than something intrinsic to the performance, which I thought was really exciting, fingernails or no fingernails. There are a few moments of imprecision – those downward runs in “or tutti sorgete” slide over a few notes here and there – but this falls into the “really, who cares” category given the rest of it. “La luce langue” (where Lady Macbeth waits as darkness falls, knowing that Banquo will soon be murdered) has both moments of quiet ominous intensity as well as suitably big and dramatic climaxes; the sleepwalking scene later is similarly fun, where she seems to make some of the high notes slide around deliberately, to suggest madness.

I also enjoyed the “fatal mia donna!” duet in Act I – in addition to how it sounds, they have a nice visual touch where as Macbeth and his lady make dark plans, a hanging lamp is set swinging back and forth – it adds a kind of visual urgency to go with the music, and the image is picked up again in Lady Macbeth’s mad scene in Act IV, where she again sets the lamp swinging and uses its light to examine her hands for blood. It ties in with the earlier scene really neatly.

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8 thoughts on “Verdi – Macbeth / Metropolitan Opera 2008 (2)

  1. Thanks for your discussion of yet another Verdi opera I really don’t know well. I have an audio recording of it, but have not listend to it very often. However I recently read “Verdi’s Shakespeare”:, which is a rare book on opera that is neither too simplistic (“Once upon a time”) nor overly scholarly (“the 6 semi-quavers in mm. 287…”).

    Between your reviews and this book, I now feel (more) prepared to delve into Verdi’s Macbeth.


    1. I admit, for years the only piece of this opera I’d ever heard was “or tutte sorgete” because I’d heard a clip of Shirley Verrett singing it and thought it was really fun. Then eventually I sat down and listened to the whole thing. It’s not my favorite Verdi opera, but it definitely has its moments.

      I’ll have to add that book to the long list of non-work things I intend to read. Nineteenth-century Europeans really liked their Shakespeare, didn’t they – even if they were getting it in translation. (I heard once that Shakespeare is actually more widely read now in Europe than it is in English-speaking countries, because they get translations into modern German, Italian, Norwegian, etc. whereas we’re reading it in the original, which can be intimidating if you’re not used to 16th-17th century English. I don’t know whether this is true, but it sounds plausible.)


      1. Isn’t there a famous letter on the subject from Goethe to Carlyle where he says “We don’ need no stinkin’ Übersetzung!” No? Probably just a dream I had.


            1. It’s been done for students, at least, in a facing-page version (google “No Fear Shakespeare”). But it’s less a translation meant to be read on its own than a helper for reading the originals. Although in my experience students do OK with the original if they’ve got an edition with footnotes for the unfamiliar words/phrases.

              A stand-alone modern English translation might be a business opportunity – but also perhaps an opportunity to draw angry mobs to your house! (I’m not sure myself where I stand on the issue. On the one hand, I think a person would miss something not reading the original. On the other, reading a translation is preferable to not reading at all – and it’s not like people couldn’t read both. Or be drawn to the original by enjoying the translation. And I read things translated from other languages all the time and have not suffered any harm as a result . . . eh, I don’t know.)


            2. O forfend it, God, that in a Christian climate souls refin’d should show so heinous, black, obscene a deed…to coin a phrase. Anyway, technically it already is modern English, othir wyse it woulde bee differentlie ywritten, would yt nat?


              1. This is true, it is modern English in that sense. It wouldn’t be a translation – it’d be a modernization. (I had this conversation with a student the other day, in fact – we were reading a source from early seventeenth-century Virginia, and he wanted to know if there was a translation. Alas, no . . .)


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