«Leaving home at 5am and spending nine fraught hours travelling to a sweltering Salzburg may not have put me in the best frame of mind for this new production of Verdi’s Macbeth, but I trust it is critical impartiality that leads me to judge it a disappointment.
It wasn’t all bad. How could it be, when Riccardo Muti was conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in an interpretation which he has developed for over 30 years?
He is less fiercely driven with the music than he was as a younger man: the translucency of texture and the precision of ensemble remain constant, but the phrasing has become more expansive and there is more relish of the score’s meditative aspects.
Watching him in the pit, one was aware of his economy of gesture, his close attention to the singers and his damping of any irrational orchestral exuberance. The result was a sombre Macbeth marked by introspective intensit,y rather than visceral excitement.
Muti made you realise that at this point of his career, Verdi was a far more sophisticated composer than is commonly recognised, but I do wish that the last two acts had been more fired up. The inclusion of the normally excised ballet music as a prelude to Act 3 was an error, I think, even if it allowed the amazing Vienna Phil a chance to frolic: it slowed the drama down when it ought to be hurtling.
You don’t hear sloppy singing when Muti is in charge and Zeljko Luˇci´c and Tatiana Serjan gave vocally admirable performances in the leading roles: Luˇci´c has the power and richness of tone of the true Verdi baritone, while Serjan was impressively accurate, and as forceful in piano passages as she was at forte. There was exemplary work from Giuseppe Filianoti (Macduff) and Dmitry Belosseslskiy (Banquo), too, and the Vienna State Opera chorus was stunning.
But oh dear me, what to say about Peter Stein’s staging? I know we all get fed up with clever-clogs post-modernist updatings, but mere mechanical dullness is not the answer either. Devoid of imagination or insight, it looked like a dud episode of Robin Hood and His Merry Men, with a battle scene and ghostly effects straight out of Monty Python. One simply cannot take this sort of thing seriously.»