First published in The Times, Monday August 21 2017
Festivals love a good anniversary. When Verdi’s Macbeth was staged at the inaugural Edinburgh International Festival back in 1947, it was to mark the centenary year of the opera’s first ever performance. Seventy years on, this new production, from Teatro Regio Torino, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, has been programmed as part of the EIF’s own birthday celebrations.
In fact, two versions of the opera exist, the later one from 1865, with Noseda drawing on both for his orchestration. If, musically, the result is a sometimes jarring mix of the overblown and the understated, this clash finds full expression in the production, directed by Emma Dante.
Pic: Ramella and Giannese
The opening scene is a writhing bacchanalia, in which satyrs with dangling genitals impregnate the witches. The sequence, bathed in Mediterranean colours by Cristian Zucaro, the lighting designer, and infused with jerky, hand-wringing choreography (created by Manuela Lo Sicco), counterpoints the brooding, barren figure of Lady Macbeth (sung by Anna Pirozzi), who dominates the opera’s first half, while foreshadowing her sleepwalking scene.
Dante’s production is at its most effective, however, when the story hits its murderous peaks. The killing of Banquo (Marko Mimica) is particularly chilling for its spare use of lighting, with the assassins’ faces slowly appearing out of the darkness at the back of the stage. The slaughter of Clan Macduff is realised with similar restraint. We arrive on the scene just as the bodies are being laid out on the stage in an atmosphere of numbed calm, the prelude to Piero Pretti’s fervid performance of Macduff’s aria mourning his dead sons.
Pic: Rich Dyson / Alamy
Such contrasts extend to the major performances. Pirozzi, in barbarian dreadlocks that seem to merge with her fur robe, sings with such unforced power that she threatens to overwhelm every scene she appears in. Meanwhile, Dalibor Jenis, singing the title role, often appears to be holding back. While it comes across as a little insipid at first, his controlled interpretation suits the later, introspective passages. The huge chorus, which also seems a little becalmed at first, comes roaring into life in the aftermath of Duncan’s murder and in the spectacular banquet scene.
Certain touches, such as Macbeth’s appearance on a skeletal horse, and the mobile beds that track and encircle Lady Macbeth, may verge on the ridiculous, but Dante does a fine job of marshalling her ensemble around Carmine Maringola’s imposing set: a series of crowns containing the lethal points of spears. The entire production is held together beautifully by the refined, crisp playing of the orchestra under Noseda, which convincingly navigates the at times incongruous mixture of light and shade in the score. Their run of Macbeth may have concluded, but the company’s residency continues with La bohème in the festival’s closing weekend.