Librettists: Francesco Maria Piave and Andrea Maffei
Conductor: Marco Armiliato
Macbeth: George Gagnidze
Lady Macbeth: Daniela Schillaci
Banquo: Alexander Vinogradov
Macduff: Giulio Pelligra
I immediately got excited about the Macbeth programmed at the Teatro di San Carlo when I heard that fabulous American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky would appear as Lady Macbeth for the occasion, so I got tickets for the Sunday matinee right away for my Neapolitan friend Vittorio and me, figuring out that this would kind of make up for having missed her reportedly blazing turn as Medea at the Met earlier this season, not to mention make a good excuse for a little trip to Naples as well.
And then, it all went downhill from there.
My euphoria started to wane when I realized that this Macbeth would be presented in concert form, but I quickly got over it because, let’s face it, some productions are so unsatisfying that a good old distraction-free, music-centric concert would have been a better choice.
Then it occurred to me that, the San Carlo undergoing extensive restoration work, this Macbeth would take place in the by default less prestigious, less glamorous and harder to reach Teatro Politeama. On the other hand, I thought that a smaller space would allow for a more intimate experience, and got on board with it.
However, the coup de grâce happened when, on that Sunday morning, I read that the role of Lady Macbeth would be interpreted not by Sondra Radvanovsky, who was indisposed and would apparently only be in town the following week, but by Sicilian soprano Daniela Schillaci. To add insult to injury, Luca Salsi, a Verdian expert I was looking forward to checking out in the title role, had just come down with bronchitis and would be replaced by Georgian baritone George Gagnidze on Sunday. Seriously?
But since one cannot fight fate, I decided not to let that string of bitter disappointments get the best of me and to follow the example of Vittorio and his ever-positive attitude (Of course, it helped that he had no idea who Sondra Radvanovsky or Luca Salsi were). So we soldiered on, even making the most of the gorgeous early spring weather to walk down to the Quartieri Spagnoli and the Teatro Politeama, which turned out to be a tired-looking burgundy space with decent acoustics.
As if to make up for all my frustrations, we enjoyed a temporary little treat as the usher unwittingly directed us to the wrong seats, and as a result, we got to spend the first half of the show at a premium location near the stage, the two legitimate occupiers of those seats arriving too late to make any change possible. Alas, that perfect spot also made the absence of the expected stars even more aggravating (Sigh).
The name of the play and the opera may be Macbeth, but everybody familiar with the plot would probably agree that the main protagonist, and therefore the juiciest part, is indisputably Lady Macbeth. On Sunday evening, not only nonplussed, but seemingly totally fired up by the daunting challenge ahead, Daniela Schillaci took it on with remarkable poise and a palpable thirst to conquer worthy of Lady Macbeth herself.
An impossibly stylish, black-clad icy blonde that Hitchcock would have loved, Schillaci was a superb schemer who coolly used her hapless husband to fulfill her own ambitions. Even better, she also knew how to adroitly tone it down and show an unexpected, almost eerie, fragility during the sleepwalking scene. Her voice may not be particularly pretty, but it has extraordinary range and flexibility, which she used with highly refined precision. Brava!
Taking over from a highly popular artist at the last minute has to be a dreadful proposition, but George Gagnidze, an obviously capable singer who specializes in the Italian repertoire, was game, with a little help from sheet music. His Macbeth was, if not transcendental, at least solid, his voice diligently digging into the dark depths of his weak mind: His commending the murder of Macduff’s family was convincingly motivated by greed and desperation, his seeing Banquo’s ghost at the banquet was all horror and confusion. You almost felt bad for the man.
As Banquo, Macbeth’s brave and noble friend, who will nevertheless be murdered on his orders (With friends like that…), Russian bass Alexander Vinogradov was the first character the audience heard, and his tranquil confidence, magnetic voice, impeccable enunciation, and elegantly ominous tone made an excellent first impression. As the action unfolded, he effortlessly maintained the high quality of his acting and singing, like the artless artist that he evidently is.
Italian lyric tenor Giulio Pelligra was a reliable MacDuff, the loyal thane in Duncan's service. His physical presence was less conspicuous and his part distinctively smaller, but he got to sing what is arguably the most memorable aria of the entire score, and one of the most poignant of the entire opera repertoire. And I am pleased to say that his rendition of “Ah, la paterna mano” was secure and heartfelt, eloquently conveying the profound agony of a man who had not been able to save his family from unspeakable tragedy.
The San Carlo’s splendid chorus got quite a few opportunities to shine and grabbed them with relish. My personal highlight was the deliciously wicked aria during which the women diabolically worked on their witches’ brew at the beginning of Act III. But the audience thought otherwise, and requested an encore of the admittedly engaging aria of the Scottish refugees bemoaning the plight of their country under Macbeth’s ruthless rule at the beginning of Act IV, and got it.
The San Carlo orchestra was in fine form as well, and it was neat to be able to see them. It was also very nice—and nostalgia-inducing—to see maestro Marco Armiliato, a familiar face from my Met days, and a gifted conductor who still brought the same unadulterated warmth and infectious enthusiasm to the proceedings, and obtained the same richly rewarding results. Under his buoyant but firm baton, the musicians did not spare any effort and did full justice to Verdi’s magnificent score, and significantly contributed to turning this performance that, at some point, did not have much going for it into a real winner.