Shakespeare´s "Macbeth" is one of the blackest tragedies he wrote and the most concise. It matters little that this Medieval Scottish drama disregards history, for in fact Duncan was the villain and Macbeth a good ruler. What counts is its terrible denunciation of murder as the route to absolute power, the psychological complexity of the ruling couple, the corroding strength of remorse, and the memorable phrases that stay in the mind.
One of the mysteries of music is that the best operas on Shakespeare weren´t written by Britishers but by an Italian: Giuseppe Verdi. He only knew the great playwright in translation, but that was enough to heat his imagination and understand that he had found golden material. And indeed, Verdi´s "Macbeth", "Otello" and "Falstaff" are the most important Shakespearean operas in history.
The first version of "Macbeth" is dated 1847 and is by far Verdi´s greatest opera prior to the so-called popular trilogy ("La Traviata", "Rigoletto", "Il Trovatore"). Although he revised it in 1865, most of the material stayed as it was, the basic changes being the addition of Lady Macbeth´s aria "La luce langue" and a new triumphant ending.
Francesco Piave´s libretto (with some additions by Andrea Maffei) is extremely faithful to Shakespeare, though some scenes are excised. And the witches´ crucial two scenes are respected, for the underworld is essential both in Shakespeare and Verdi. As the original was premièred in Florence and the revision in Paris, the latter had to have a ballet for the witches, and this is currently cut.
Verdi was only 34 when he created his tenth opera, and in it what he did was unique for he explores new grounds: the singers rarely have to deal with virtuosic writing but need to involve themselves with the characters to the point of total identification: you need great artists rather than outstanding singers. And the orchestra creates ambiences of disquiet and terror.
At the Colón it was offered only in 1939 before the great performances of 1962 and 1964 established it in the repertoire: Shuard, Colzani/Taddei, conductor Previtali, and the truly innovative production by Pöttgen. Unfortunately by 1998 the production by Jérôme Savary was contaminated by the distortion trend that has ruined European production ever since. And last year something even worse happened: a South African company presented a total travesty with a "Congolese Macbeth" where snatches of Verdi could be heard and poor Shakespeare was torn to pieces.
The opera is Medieval and Scottish, but in this operatic season Marcelo Lombardero´s production happens in the Nineteen Fifties in a vaguely Balcan location. So the references to Glamis, Birnam Wood, Cawdor, Fiffe and the English go for nothing. Ah, but you have to resignify it for our times, for we are so silly that we can´t understand Medieval struggle for power. So at the end you see a modern bombarded town and not an inkling of the Birnam wood advancing. Banquo is killed in a train station. Why a barbed wire in "a deserted spot near the border with England" ? And why after the final chorus of peace are people repressed? But we have plenty of red blood.
Granted, the massive stage designs of Diego Siliano are well executed, and the apparitions of ghosts are effective (also by Siliano). Costumes by Luciana Gutman follow the producer´s instructions. The lighting by Horacio Efron is skillful.
Lady Macbeth is a fearsome role, and Callas´s record of the arias set the standard. Chaira Taigi (debut) is beautiful but that´s not a plus in this role: she has to inspire dread with her acting and singing, and she doesn´t. The voice is middling, for she neither has a firm top nor solid lows. However, she found her best form in the Somnambulist scene. The Argentine Fabián Veloz, replacing the announced Jorge Lagunes, was admirable, a true Verdian baritone with timbre, volume, musicality and dramatic presence. A plus: for the first time at the Colón, we hear Macbeth´s farewell to the world (from the 1847 version).
Aleksander Teliga (debut) was a Banquo of little vocal presence, but Gustavo López Manzitti was very expressive and accurate as Macduff. The rest were in the picture. Excellent work from the Colón Choir (Miguel Martínez). And a welcome return of conductor Stefano Ranzani, who gave full dramatic impact to the music with a collaborating orchestra.
For Buenos Aires Herald