VERDI Macbeth – Matheson
We have Peter Moores and Patric Schmid (of Opera Rara) to thank for many operatic pleasures on disc, none more than this one, which represents the start of a series that will eventually include first versions of five Verdi operas. This derives from a project engendered by Julian Budden, Verdi specialist and the BBC’s opera guru from 1969 to 1983, in Radio 3’s more adventurous days. All the performances are well remembered by those who heard them when first broadcast. Their appearance on CD has been eagerly awaited.
Although Verdi’s revisions of his first Shakespearian opera are mostly improvements, there are several aspects of the original score that are worthy of revival and, inevitably, it is a more consistent whole, the later additions and amendments evincing Verdi’s changed and improved style. Lady Macbeth’s second aria, ‘Trionfai’, is here more basic, more showy than its subtle successor, ‘La luce langue’. The cabaletta to Macbeth’s Act 3 aria is a rousing and unusual piece, dropped in the revision of 1865 in favour of another duet for Macbeth and his Lady. The chorus at the start of Act 4, replaced by a more distinctive piece, is in its own right a fine piece of Risorgimento ardour, and the final scene, besides having Macbeth’s effective aria as he lies mortally wounded – and which is often spatchcocked into the later version – is tauter, if more blatant, than its successor.
What makes this issue most worthwhile, however, is the superb performance. John Matheson, a most underrated conductor, directs a vital, finely timed and well-integrated account of the score that catches all of its astonishing originality, so faithful to Shakespeare.
Rita Hunter is as an accomplished and appropriate Lady Macbeth as any on disc, bar the unique Callas for De Sabata. She has the right voice for the part, firm, exciting, evenly produced and resinous in tone, and sings it with élan and dramatic purpose, culminating in a haunting account of the Sleepwalking scene. Peter Glossop was not always given his due: his Verdian style is faultless and his understanding of the part complete. He may not have the biting Italian tone of Cappuccilli (Abbado), but everything else about his reading is Verdian in the best sense, and he really imbues the role with Shakespearian intensity borne of stage experience. Britain has had no more exciting a Verdian tenor in the postwar era – except perhaps for James Johnston – than Kenneth Collins, who delivers ‘Ah, la paterno mano’ in exemplary voice and style. John Tomlinson, then in pristine voice, is an imposing Banquo.
Chorus and orchestra, obviously well tutored by Matheson, are hard to fault, so on all sides justice is done to Verdi’s highly original score, and attention is held throughout. The recording, slightly bass-heavy, has been transferred at rather a low level, so a high volume setting is called for, but its balance is as good as you would expect, given the originating source. So this is definitely an experience which convinced Verdians should not miss.