Macbeth from Paris and Parma

Besides the odd backstage injury or death, an air of box office doom also
permeates any staging of Macbeth. Two recent DVDs of opera house
performances of Giuseppe Verdi and Francesco Maira Piave’s adaptation give
credence to the superstitions, no matter how many tickets may have been sold.
What the cameras recorded is fairly dire.

Superficially, both Lilaina Cavalli’s staging for the Teatro Regio di
Parma in 2006 and the 2009 Paris Opera work of Dmitri Tcherniakov could be
classified as “Regie” productions. In other words, the directors make
themselves felt at every almost moment, with their choice of setting and
costume, as well as the occasional ostentatious creative touch. For the latter,
consider Tcherniakov’s use, between scenes, of stage projections of a Google
Earth point of view on a small European town, or Cavalli’s use of a little
person in Lady Macbeth’s first scene, said little person sporting, for no
discernible reason, a long, thick rat tail.

However, Cavalli just uses some of the clichÈs of Regie directors
to spice up her basically traditional point of view. Viewers can ignore the
chorus members in theater-seat rows watching the action at certain points, and
the pointless updating of air raid sirens and gun fire just before the
overture. When the singers appear, they essentially move and behave as singers
of these roles have for decades. Sylvie Valayre’s Lady Macbeth, for example,
wears a conventional nightgown and carries a candle holder in her sleep walking
scene. Veteran Leo Nucci goes from military regalia to kingly robes, all while
wearing a fairly unvaried pained expression.

It’s the worst of both worlds — the distractions of an inept Regie
production and the pro-forma stiffness of a dull traditional one. Cavalli is
blessed, therefore, to have Leo Nucci as her lead. Nucci is not a great signing
actor, but he can be effective, and this is one of his great roles. By the end
of the evening — a long sing — gruffness begins to dominate his tone, but
for much of the performance, he is in top shape, earning the audience’s
passionate adulation. From the slight wobble and tendency to smother the tone,
Sylvia Valayre appears to be a soprano with a huge voice just barely within her
control. She plays a conventional Lady, stroking her husband’s bare chest
when flirtatious, and widening her eyes to convey homicidal passion. The rest
of the cast is capable but generic. Roberto Iuliano does sing a rather sweet
“ah, la paterna mano.” Bruno Bartoletti, even more veteran than his leading
man, gets a proficient reading from the Parma orchestra.


Both Cavalli in Parma and Tcherniakov in Paris opt to spare their singers of
Banco a zombie-like reappearance after the character’s murder, instead having
their Macbeth alarm the party guests by raving about a man invisible both to them
and the audience. After that, there is no comparison between the two
productions. Paris wants the “real Regie.” Tcherniakov is quoted in the
booklet essay as admitting Macbeth gave him “a world of trouble.”
So apparently it was his intent to share that with us. He apparently decided
that the world of Macbeth is centered on community, so the main stage
is the square of a remarkably neat row of houses apparently constructed by
Ikea. For the castle, a frame moves forward with an elegant, high-ceilinged
living room in earth tones. In the witch and forest scenes, the chorus —
mixed in gender — ambles and roams around the town square. For Banco’s
murder, for example, that fine singer Ferrucio Furlanetto basically just gets
lost in a crowd of passing strangers in overcoats, and when they part, he is
dead on the ground. This distaste for the eerie or supernatural elements of the
libretto has its flip side in the best part of Tcherniakov’s direction, the
complexity of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship. Here we have a couple
who are outwardly normal. Circumstances bring out an unexpected blood lust, but
they turn to each other with a gentleness not often seen in other productions.
The director’s most amazing work is with Violetta Urmana as Lady Macbeth. In
other appearances Urmana has used both the amplitude of her voice and her
physical self to sink back into prima donna poses. Here, both her
vocal work and her acting have a sharp relief that grips the attention, even
when Urmana is not at the front of the attention. Almost as strong is Dimitris
Tiliakos in the title role. His is not an imposing voice, but he works with it
to produce incisive effects. His thinner frame gives him a haunted look, as
well as a sense of weakness that draws in the audience’s sympathy. That’s
especially potent in the final scene, which Tiliakos plays in a shirt and
briefs. Besides the typically imposing Furlanetto, Paris has a credible Macduff
in Stefano Secco. A young conductor with appropriate name of Teodor Currentzis
exhibits both expected flash and some keen insight into a score that does have
its unsubtle moments.

Despite the originality of Tcherniakov’s vision, ultimately this
Macbeth simply works too hard to be different than any other
Macbeth. There’s always something interesting to observe, but the
total impact is much less than the director might have hoped. A 30 minute bonus
feature centered on the director will fascinate some, as it delves deep into
his working method. Others will find their worst suppositions about the ego of
Regie artists extensively confirmed.

If anyone is desperate for a Macbeth on DVD and these two are all
that is easily available, consider the Parma one for the star power of Nucci,
and the Paris one for Urmana’s amazing work, if not also for some interesting
stage pictures and a sense that there is a place for opera in the world of

Chris Mullins


image_description=Giuseppe Verdi: Macbeth (Parma 2006)
product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Macbeth
product_by=Macbeth: Leo Nucci; Banco: Enrico Iori; Lady Macbeth: Sylvie Valayre; Dama di Lady Macbeth: Tiziana Tramonti; Macduff: Roberto Iuliano; Malcolm: Nicola Pascoli; Il medico: Enrico Turco; L’araldo: Davide Ronzoni; Un domestico: Riccardo di Stefano; Il sicario: Noris Borgogelli. Compagnia Balletto di Roma. Teatro Regio di Parma Chorus and Orchestra (chorus master: Martino Faggiani). Conductor: Bruno Bartoletti. Stage Director: Liliana Cavani. Set Designer: Dante Ferretti. Costume Designer: Alberto Verso. Lighting Designer: Sergio Rossi. Choreographer: Amedeo Amodio. Recorded live at the Teatro Regio di Parma, June 2006.
product_id=ArtHaus Musik 107313 [DVD]