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The 1847 Lady Macbeth is difficult to cast (Odabella in Nabucco has similar problems). The singer must be firm voiced and suitably malevolent and manipulating, but must be able to cope with the coloratura (canaries need not apply). In this version, coloratura is the lady's only means of communication. Callas would, I think, have made a good Lady Macbeth in this version and on the Opera Rara recording Rita Hunter has the power and flexibility to perfection (just listen to the way her opening arpeggio in Trionfai resounds around the Albert Hall).
For the performance at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall on Saturday 28 March 2008, Chelsea Opera Group called upon the services of Nelly Miricioiu. Miricioiu has sung quite a number of roles for COG, but generally these have been in Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini. But in the wider world she ventures into later territories. (I first saw her as Violetta for Scottish Opera.) She is a notable Tosca and has recently added Mascagni's Iris to her repertoire.
Remarkably Saturday's performance was her début as Lady Macbeth and a notable début it was. Miricioiu is no canary, she sings coloratura with power and drama, giving each note its due weight and colour, rendering the fioriture as drama. But where she differs from some Lady Macbeths is that her passagework is accurate. Too often the Lady is characterised by fierce drama but rather vague passagework (hidden behind a firm vibrato), Miricioiu by contrast gave us fine, accurate but fiery passagework. You sensed that, on stage, her Lady Macbeth would be rather like Ellen Terry in Oscar Wilde's famous quip about Macbeth buying his clothes locally but Lady Macbeth shopping in Byzantium -- in other words a figure of elegance and power, but very controlling and fiercely ambitious.
Though her assumption of the role was dramatic and impressive, all was not quite perfect. Time has been kind to her voice, it has retained its suppleness and expressiveness but her top notes now tend to spread under pressure. But this must be balanced against a fierce pride in taking care of all the notes and her sleepwalking scene was a mirror of control. Having seen her in a number of 19th century mad scenes, it seems so appropriate to see her in the closest Verdi ever came to a mad scene.
Copyright © 2 April 2008
Robert Hugill, London UK