- Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1
- Studio: Bel Air Classiques
- Blu-ray Release Date: June 28, 2011
- List Price: $39.99
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Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures
(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)
When you mix an art nouveau Russian director (Dmitri Tcherniakov) with an Italian masterpiece, and mount it on a French opera stage with an international cast, you never know what you might get. Fortunately, the main ingredient in this recipe, Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth, provides a good beginning for all that follows. The story is Shakespeare’s own and will be familiar to most viewers for its basic theme of how power corrupts, and how absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even so, it remains fascinating to see how Macbeth, aided and abetted by his scheming wife, attains the throne of Scotland only to be undone by guilt, madness, and eventually by Malcolm, the rightful regal heir.
For those who have seen traditional performances of Macbeth, this one will come as either a shock to the system or a revelation. Tcherniakov downplays the regal aspect of the story and casts it as a domestic power struggle in a small town of uncertain European provenance. Gone are the witches, replaced by a motley crew of villagers. Gone are the three visions of the third act or Banquo’s ghost at the royal party which resembles an intimate cocktail affair. Macduff delivers his big aria from a child’s playpen! Simply put, this is not your father’s Macbeth. In spite of these substantial alterations to Verdi’s original intent, opera still is all about great singing and here is where this 2009 Paris Opera performance shines. Greek baritone Dmitris Tiliakos (Macbeth), Lithuanian soprano Violetta Urmana (Lady Macbeth), and Italians, bass Ferruccio Furlanetto (Banquo) and tenor Stefano Secco (Macduff) deliver a terrific sing. The Parisians in the pit are ably led by young Greek conductor Teodor Currentzis who clearly has a lot of Verdi in his veins.
There are two basic sets in play: the town square and the Macbeths’ drawing room. The staging is cleverly done so that the audience is looking through the fourth wall and drawn into the action of which there is plenty. The use of Google Earth to suggest location at the beginning of each scene is rather neat at the onset but soon becomes fatiguing. Camera work is excellent and supports the drama quite well. Detail is good and although there are a lot of dark moments, you get plenty of color from this shoot. The bad news, and there is a good bit, unfortunately folks, is a black gauze curtain in front of the stage which rears its ugly head during close shots, particularly during the better lit scenes. High def videography simply exacerbates this stituation and spoils what is otherwise a well shot performance.
Recording decisions made during live opera performances should try to convey what would be heard from a premium seat in the house. Here, there was an obvious decision to favor the soloists over the orchestra and chorus. While some might disagree with this decision, others would support it since the soloists are what most of us pay big bucks to hear in person. There is relatively limited ambience in this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack.
A 30-minute documentary in Russian on the making of the Tcherniakov production is interesting and well worth watching. Be sure to dial in the subtitles.
The Definitive Word
There is no shortage of Macbeths on DVD, featuring such baritone luminaries as Thomas Hampson, Renato Bruson, Leo Nucci and Carlos Alvarez. If the current release were not compellingly sung and conducted, the fact that it is a Blu-ray debut would make little difference. Fortunately, on balance, I find this a well sung and played Macbeth overall. It is somewhat undermined dramatically by its unconventional staging and the lack of witches and special effects. But I eventually got over all of that in view of the excellent and sometimes spectacular singing by the principals. Soprano Urmanova does not exude feral sexuality like some of her counterparts and her chunkiness is not helped by some pretty unflattering costumes. But when she launches her four big arias, you forget about these issues. Ferrucio Furlanetto is still one of the finest basses out there and is as good as Banquo gets. The real finds in this performance are the Greeks, baritone Tiliakos and conductor Currentzis. The major drawback keeping this Blu-ray from hitting the top is the gauze curtain which intrudes on close ups. That aside, this is a very enjoyable performance that I will certainly return to in the future.
Additional Screen Captures
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