Why the CSO’s rendition of Verdi’s Macbeth under Riccardo Muti’s baton was more exhilarating and captivating than many a fully staged top tier opera is a puzzle. Was it because the symphony is so superior? Was it Muti’s intimacy with Verdi’s intention? Was it the stellar soloist talent and the large chorus brought in to bring the libretto to life? Or is it just that we were not distracted by costumes, sets and such from hearing the beauty and drama of the score?
Whatever the reason, the end result was 4 acts in 3+ hours that gripped our attention to Shakespeare’s dramatic story of lust for power that is Macbeth.
Reportedly Verdi was an ardent lover and student of Shakespeare, and in fact went to great lengths to ensure that the story hewed closely to Shakespeare’s words.
We hear the so famous quotes from Macbeth in the libretto, such as an Italian paraphrasing of the witches’ song that in English goes “..Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble…”. Macbeth delivers one of Shakespeare’s more quoted lines, “Life…It is the tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Verdi reportedly was very hands-on in the staging of Macbeth’s world premiere. He insisted that Lady Macbeth, for example, have more of a dramatic voice than a beautiful one. One can only assume that Muti, a working scholar of Verdi widely recognized as without par for Verdi interpretation, similarly assembled his soloists with great precision. Coloratura soprano Tatiana Serjan quickly captivated the audience. We feel her drive for power unabashed and sung with dramatic fury. Later, when she crumples in guilty madness – “Here’s the smell of blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Alas!”— it is hard not to be overcome with the drama in her voice.
Macbeth too, sung by Baritone Luca Salsi never failed to keep our attention—mind and heart—on his emotive singing. We travel with his first doubts to his bloodthirsty maneuvers and his ultimate final surrender.
The chorus of witches that Verdi scored is magnificent, as are the baritone assassins who at one point reach such low registers it reminds of Mongolian throat singers.
Again and again we have to remind ourselves that this is “only” a concert opera. The musical drama is so powerful that we are drawn into Macbeth’s world en toto.
Perhaps because we can see the flute, or see the English Horn player walk off stage for his solo from afar, and watch the flare of the kettle drums and all the musicians we can fully enjoy the score, more so than if the orchestra were hidden in an opera pit.
At the conclusion of the concert Maestro Muti spoke to the audience after several standing ovations, as is his way. Among other things, he shared that in a few years he hopes to bring Falstaff to the CSO’s stage. If this year’s Verdi festival is any indicator, that will be one concert to certainly not miss.
In the program notes Maestro Muti was asked why Verdi’s music continues to be so popular. He answers, “Verdi is like Mozart—he speaks to us about our sins, our defects, all our qualities. And he is not like Beethoven, who points his finger and judges—because Beethoven was always a moralist. But Verdi addresses all of us—from North America, to South America, Australia, Japan, China…That’s the reason why I think that, in the future, Verdi will become even more universal than Wagner. Verdi’s music will be of great comfort for generations and generations to come, because he speaks to us like one man speaking to another person.”
This was quite a man who spoke to us. These were perhaps the worlds’ best musical voices of our time to convey the tale.
In a word, exhilarating.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra will continue performing concerts under Maestro Muti’s baton and other leading conductors throughout the 2013/2014 concert season. For information or tickets call 312 294 3000 or visit the Chicago Symphony Orchestra website.
# # #
Copyright Todd Rosenberg Photography / Chicago Symphony Orchestra