Chelsea Opera Group – Verdi’s Macbeth [1847 Version]

Macbeth – Opera in four acts to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, with additional material by Andrea Maffei, after Shakespeare [1847 Version]

Lady Macbeth – Nelly Miricioiu
Macbeth – Olaf Sigurdarson
Macduff – Andrew Rees
Banquo – Paolo Pecchioli
Malcolm – Michael Bracegirdle
Lady-in-waiting – Stephanie Corley
Servant / Assassin / Doctor – Daniel Grice

Chorus & Orchestra of Chelsea Opera Group
Brad Cohen

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 29 March, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (1813-1901)Chelsea Opera Group has provided many enjoyable evenings, conveyed through bravery, love and enthusiasm: bravery in tackling some formidable operas, love for the art-form and enthusiasm in the approach. Sometimes a performance has given satisfaction and well-being, and sometimes one goes home with uplifted spirits accompanied by admiration, for although COG uses professional soloists its chorus and orchestra are amateurs, true lovers of what they do. The presentation of Verdi’s “Macbeth” in its original version, was one from which many in the audience wended their homeward way with spirits decidedly high.

In “Macbeth”, the chorus, whether the witch-performing ladies or the men in military mode, plays an important part, and COG’s members were on fine form. I do not know how many hours are spent in rehearsal, but whether it is many or few the result was laudable. The orchestra matched the choristers and produced some full-blooded sound but also much delicacy. Brad Cohen kept the momentum going and his players did not let him down.

This first version of Verdi’s opera has a tautness that holds one’s attention, and some passages which he dropped are definitely worth hearing. COG assembled a worthy cast, with a well-known soprano and a baritone who deserves greater recognition. Nobody was under par.

Nelly MiricioiuNelly Miricioiu was in terrific voice, well controlled and freely projected. Lady Macbeth was a lady by title but not in manners or morals; she has a resoluteness that her sometimes-wavering husband lacks. Miricioiu brought out the determination and single-mindedness of the woman. Without chewing the scenery she created a strong character by using her voice to convey the mood-swings and reactions: a quietly sung inwardness here, a happy-go-lucky outburst in the ‘brindisi’, amoral bravado, and mental disrepair in her final aria. Miricioiu found just the right inflections and fitting colourations in her tone.

Macbeth himself is another complex character, fearing ghostly retribution for his murder of King Duncan yet, at the end of Act Three, telling himself “you must confirm your power by deeds, not illusions”. The Icelandic baritone Olafur Sigurdarson made a marked impression by the firmness and focus of his voice. Like Miricioiu, he created a living being with intelligent use of vocal shading, from strong, abundant tone, as in ‘Pietà, aspetto, amore’, to introspective soliloquising, I was hearing him for the first time and hope that COG will invite him back.

Paolo PecchioliBanquo has a splendid aria, a shortish duet and little else. Paolo Pecchioli, turning more and more from the bel canto composers to Verdi, brought a warm basso cantante and natural phrasing, his tone a shade soft-grained rather than biting. Macduff was sung by Andrew Rees, whose singing of ‘Ah, la paterna mano’ showed responsiveness to the man’s thoughts: remorse, but not lachrymosity, that he was not there to defend his family was subtly turned to a vengeful determination to face Macbeth. Rees’s voice rang out firmly.

Brad Cohen gave a strong lead with his impassioned but not hard-driven direction, so that tension was maintained even in quiet passages. If you missed it, you may want to consider COG’s next offering, the gentler “Cendrillon” of Massenet, at the QEH on Sunday 1 June. Booking opened on 1 February, so tarry no longer!

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