Verdi’s Macbeth in Concert at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Such a memorable
interpretation is offered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under its music
director Riccardo Muti in its current series of concert performances
celebrating the Verdi anniversary. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are performed by
Luca Salsi and Tatiana Serjan. The roles of Banco and Macduff are sung,
respectively, by Dmitry Belosselskiy and Francesco Meli. The Chicago Symphony
chorus is prepared by Duane Wolfe.

The orchestral introduction to Macbeth prefigures a number of
musical themes that will take on individual importance during the four acts of
the opera. In this performance tempos were at first decidedly rapid with only
several of the lyrical string passages taken at a more measured pace. The
ensuing chorus of witches sang with a comparable forward drive until the first
scene featuring Macbeth and Banco as they hear the predictions of future rule.
Mr. Salsi seemed effectively perturbed by the witches from the very start and
this reaction is evident in his vocal approach. His searching and introspective
tone leads to an internalization of some vocal passages so that other lines
sung at full voice take on added effect. When Salsi declares “La man rapace
non alzerÚ” [“I shall not raise a murderous hand”] his final pitches
swell upward yet still express his determination with the impression of
ambivalence. Alternately, Mr. Belosselskiy’s Banco in these early scenes
released his pronouncements with an assured and powerful conviction in those
very beliefs.

In the followings scenes introducing Lady Macbeth Ms. Serjan established her
approach to this complex role. Her precise reading of the letter from Macbeth
was followed by a spirited performance of Lady Macbeth’s aria, “Ambizioso
spirto … Viene! t’sffretta!” [“Ambitious soul … Come! Hurry!”].
Serjan’s lower register is impressive and she used it effectively. Her
decorations on the ascending “pone” and “freddo core” [“cold
heart”] were well executed, yet when Serjan sings higher pitches one notes
more directly her shift to a differing vocal approach rather than an integrated
conception of the character. The following cabaletta, “Or tutti sorgete,
ministri infernali’ [“Arise, all ministers of Hell”], was marked by the
same conflation of vocal techniques, although excitement built on her good
sense for legato and decoration in the final verses. The repeat was
taken in this performance.

In those scenes detailing the King’s murder by Macbeth at the urging of
the Lady conspiratorial exchanges between the royal couple were sung with
alternating piano and dramatic effects. When Macbeth sees the image of
the dagger stained with blood even before his deed, Salsi’s expressive
intonation on “Orrenda imago!” emphasizes the chilling sight, whereas much
of the remainder of his monologue is sung in a hushed internalization.
Salsi’s projection of Macbeth’s determination to stab King Duncan rises
again on “» deciso” (“It is decided”), from which point he cannot
retreat. Once Macduff and Banco enter and discover the King’s murder, the
quartet of principal singers is united with the chorus in excited outbursts
prefiguring the subsequent acts. Belosselskiy’s extended low notes
culminating on “si senti il tremor” (“the shaking was felt”) evoked the
omens of evil reflected that night in nature. Mr. Meli’s declaration of the
crime was poignantly expressed at full voice as the royal pair feigned
ignorance. At the close of Act I, as in several other scenes, the orchestra and
chorus dominated in a volume greater than necessary, since the solo singers
were not distinctly audible in several key lines.

Act II of Macbeth includes significant vocal pieces for Lady
Macbeth and Banco as well as a progression in the persona of Macbeth. Ms.
Serjan’s “La luce langue” (“The light is fading”) imitated the pallid
sense of dusk in her delivery and rose to declarations of ambition toward the
close (“O scettro, alfin sei mio!” [“O scepter, at last you are
mine!”]. The assassins of the chorus who have agreed to murder Banco, while
advancing Macbeth’s plan, received excellent orchestral accompaniment with
Matthieu Dufour’s flute suggesting the stealth of a planned attack. As Banco
entered with his son, premonitions from nature were again emphasized. “queste
TenËbre” (“these shadows”) was sung by Belosselskiy with rich, dark bass
pitches calling forth the danger of these surroundings. The wealth of emotions
achieved in Belosselskiy’s exciting vocal range surged with anticipation. His
voice rose to fearsome declaimed high notes on “ingombrano” and
“terror” (“cloud” and “fear”), before he urged his son’s flight
as he himself was killed. In her brindisi, “Si colmi il calice,”
(“Fill your goblet”) Serjan used decoration sparingly in her attempt to
lighten the mood at the banquet after Banco’s murder. The appearance of
Banco’s ghost to the mind and eyes of Macbeth alone caused a notable
transformation in Salsi’s projection of character. As the Lady tried to
stabilize her husband’s public reaction, Act II ended with notably strong
forte singing by Simge B¸y¸kedes and Meli as the Lady-in-Waiting and

In Act III of this performance the ballet music from the 1865 revision of
Macbeth was included with contributions by Messrs. Sharp, McGill, and
Dufour playing cello, bassoon, and flute adding significantly to an overall
effective performance. During this act Macbeth visits the witches yet again and
is confronted as well by three apparitions issuing him warnings. These
predictions, as declaimed chillingly by David Govertsen Katelyn Casey, and Lily
Shorney, were met with a brooding inwardness by Macbeth. Salsi began, however,
to sing with renewed dramatic force when he saw a procession of those kings who
had passed on before. He struggled with the further image of Banco’s
descendants (“spaventosa imagine” [“dreadful vision”]), until the
witches bring him to his senses and into the company of Lady Macbeth. Both
resolve to thwart any such possibility in their control of power and swear
“Vendetta!” to close the act.

The choral introduction of Scottish refugees at the start of Act IV was sung
movingly and at a tempo suggestive of a dirge. Immediately following this
pessimistic recital of woe, Macduff issues his solo lament and his promise of
renewed efforts against “quel tiranno” (“that tyrant”). Mr. Meli’s
performance of Macduff’s aria was surely one of the highlights of this
evening. The alternation between pure top notes and legato phrasing as
Meli built on the expressive intensity of Macduff’s resolve was a model of
Verdian tenor singing. The lines “colui le braccia … perdono aprir”
(“open your arms to him in pardon”) were a culmination of suffering and
determination expressed here with consummate vocal control. Directly after this
scene the famous aria of Lady Macbeth “Una macchia” (“A spot”) is sung
as she walks in her sleep witnessed by the doctor and her Lady-in-Waiting.
Serjan used alternating vocal registers intelligently while shading her voice
to piano at appropriate moments. High notes were touched upon fleetingly as Serjan’s portrayal of character moved through a
gripping emotional slide.

This opportunity to hear Verdi’s Macbeth performed by the Chicago
Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and featured soloists is a fitting tribute in
this anniversary year of Verdi’s birth. Further performances will include the
Requiem Mass which will also be projected as a webcast.

Salvatore Calomino

Cast and production information:

Macbeth, general of King Duncan’s army: Luca Salsi; Lady Macbeth,
Macbeth’s wife: Tatiana Serjan; Banquo, general of King Duncan’s army:
Dmitry Belosselskiy; Macduff, nobleman of Scotland, Thane of Fife: Francesco
Meli; Malcolm, Duncan’s son: Antonello Ceron; Lady-in-Waiting: Simge
B¸y¸kedes; Assassin/Doctor: Gianluca Buratto; Servant/Herald: Daniel Eifert;
Three Apparitions: David Govertsen, Katelyn Casey, Lily Shorney. Chicago
Symphony Chorus (Duain Wolfe, Chorus Director). Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Riccardo Muti, conductor.

image_description=Luca Salsi
product_title=Verdi’s Macbeth in Concert at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
product_by=A review by Salvatore Calomino
product_id=Above: Luca Salsi