Verdi’s Macbeth is one of those early works where he seems to be trying to grow out of bel canto but not quite making it. There is some splendidly dramatic music and some that just seems completely incongruous given the subject matter. The witches’ chorus at the beginning of Act 3 is a case in point. That said Phyllida Lloyd’s production for the Royal Opera House takes the piece seriously and does a pretty good job of presenting the drama in a straightforward but visually attractive way.
We get witches (lots of them) in red turbans and very sparkly outfits for the regal Macbeths but there are some interesting touches too. Much use is made of a kind of cage for the Macbeths; a bit obvious perhaps but effective enough. The supernatural elements are well staged with minimal fluff and Macbeth’s apparitions are very well done, backed up by strong acting across the board, it all works pretty well.
There are some strong vocal performances. Simon Keenleyside may not be the most full blooded Italianate baritone but he’s an acutely intelligent singer who really gets inside the role. Liumyla Monastyrska is terrific. She’s got plenty of power but is plenty flexible enough to navigate the obligatory coloratura passages. All in all she’s very exciting to watch and listen to. Raymond Aceto is impressive as Banquo and rising star Dmitri Pittas convinces as Macduff. Antonio Pappano is in his element with this music and generates much energy and drama from the orchestra.
I’m not totally sold on the video direction. It’s not an easy production to film because it is generally very dark (in the sense of low lighting levels) but Sue Judd rather overdoes the close-ups and it’s often hard to figure out what is really going on. This was filmed in full HD so there’s no real excuse for that. Picture quality reflects the source on DVD. Sound is also pretty good in both DTS and LPCM stereo formats. (Blu-ray is also available). Disk extras include a useful interview with Keenleyside and less insightful ones with Monastyrska and Aceto plus a few minutes of Pappano rehearsing the orchestra. The booklet has an essay and synopsis but no track listing. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.