Classical CD Reviews

New classical music releases reviewed in detail by Gavin Dixon

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Verdi: Macbeth from the Sferisterio Opera Festival

Macbeth - opera in 4 acts (1865 revision)
Macbeth - Giuseppe Altomare (baritone); Lady Macbeth - Olha Zhuravel (soprano); Banquo - Pavel Kudinov (bass); Macduff - Rubens Pelizzari (tenor); Malcolm - Marco Voleri (tenor); Doctor - Luca Dall’Amico (bass); Chorus Lirico Marchigiano
Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana/Danielle Callegari
Stage direction, set design and costumes by Pier Luigi Pizzi
rec. live, Sferisterio Opera Festival, Macerata, Italy, 2, 5 August 2007 Stereo DDD
Sung in Italian
NAXOS 8.660259-60 [CD1 – 77:02, CD2 – 66:42, TT: 152.27]

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Although a number of the cast are from Eastern Europe, this is distinctively Italian Verdi interpretation. From the point of view of the singing, the main benefit is consistently clear diction, while the main disadvantage (at least for me) is the continuous, heavy vibrato. Guiseppe Altomare, in the title role, was apparently a late addition to the cast, but you wouldn’t know. His voice is rich and characterfull, although his intonation is a little shaky towards the top. He has a good range of colours and emotions, and in the absence of visuals, it is his performance that keeps the drama alive in the sound recording. Olha Zhuravel, as Lady Macbeth, is the most vibrato-laden of the soloists, which is not to my taste, although Verdi himself would have been unlikely to complain. In fact, the vibrato gives her voice impressive projection and, when required, a menacing intensity. Pavel Kudinov and Rubens Pelizzari give similarly convincing performances as Banco and Macduff respectively, the former with a noble, rich tone, the latter slighter lighter and more guttural, and both articulating the words with welcome clarity.

There is a certain amount of stage noise in the first act, which is not unduly distracting, but gives a tantalising suggestion of the visuals we are missing. Otherwise, the sound quality is of a very high standard. After having heard the recording, I was surprised to read that it was made in an outdoor arena with a very large stage, as neither of these factors has impinged on the audio quality. The balance between stage and pit is finely judged throughout and the clarity of the orchestra sound is impressive, although there is a slight tendency for the percussion to sound distant. The Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana sound distinctively Italian, and the light brass sound gives an internal balance within the orchestra that is easily lost with larger instruments in this country. The chorus, Coro Lirico Marchigiano ‘V. Bellini’ also deserve a mention. Again, there is more vibrato in the ladies’ voices than I would like, but the intonation and ensemble are excellent.

The presentation of the CD is to the usual serviceable, if not exceptional, Naxos standards. There is no libretto, of course, and even the linked webpage gives only the Italian. But the few stills from the production give the impression of a visual spectacle that was fully the equal of the musical drama presented here. All in all, this is a good ensemble performance, and if none of the soloists really excel, that is a testament to the high musical standards of the overall production. It is not the best recording of Macbeth out there, but it certainly does Verdi’s score full justice, and is worth considerably more than its diminutive price tag.

Gavin Dixon

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