The performance was well worth the effort. Baritone Frederick Burchinal is a veteran of the title role and has sung it at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He showed a comprehensive mastery of the role in all respects. He was ably supported by soprano Cynthia Lawrence as Lady Macbeth, Stefan Szkafarowsky as a bearish and likeable Banquo, the Florentine Opera Chorus as the Witches, and the Milwaukee Symphony, ably lead by Maestro Joseph Rescigno, celebrating his 25th year with the Florentine. Jorge Lopez-Yanez sang well in the tenor role of Macduff, but acted rather woodenly. Admittedly, his music, especially in the key scene where he learns of the massacre of his family, does not give great scope for emoting.
“Macbeth” is one of Verdi’s earlier operas, his first big hit (“Nabucco” was a success in Italy but not so much outside it) and the first of his three Shakespeare adaptations. It is therefore not surprising that there are some false notes. Some of the transition music, such as after Banquo’s murder, seems unwontedly cheerful, and, as noted, Macduff’s big scene lacks vocal highlights that the Verdi of ‘Rigoletto’ or ‘Otello’ would not have omitted. On the other hand, there are some interesting inclusions: Verdi makes Lady Macbeth an enthusiastic co-conspirator in the planned murder of Banquo and his son, instead of taking direction from Macbeth as in Shakespeare. This makes her villainy more all of a piece, but then her decline into madness (in the very well-done and dramatic sleepwalking scene) seems rather abrupt. However, Verdi’s expansion on Macbeth’s soliloquy after the death of his wife, works very well and adds depth—Macbeth, now alone and surrounded by enemies, realizes that he will be remembered as a tyrant with “no friendly epitaph.”
The staging was very spare, with a canted turntable taking up half the stage, sliding panels defining the rear, and a copse of bare sticks representing various woods. I disagreed with the local paper critic on the costuming: the rented set was rather generically medieval (more Sir Walter Scott than “Braveheart,”) but I did not think it clashed badly with the sets.
All in all, a very fine, powerful production with very little to quibble at. We enjoyed it all the way through.