The 1847 Macbeth

ElijahDirector Elijah Moshinsky on the ‘propulsive vitality and rough originality’ of Verdi’s first Macbeth

The early operas of Verdi are a unique genre. Often derided for their naivety or crude directness, they are neglected in relation to his more expansive and complex works which have found a permanent place in the repertoire of every opera house.

I aim to explore these neglected works. Macbeth is a particularly interesting example of an early opera composed in1847 which was then revised by Verdi in 1865. The first performances were written for the Teatro Pergola in Florence, a small theatre – about the same size as Buxton Opera House – and the later Macbeth was commissioned for the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris which was a large House boasting a chorus of over a hundred and a large orchestra. Much of the opera was rewritten to accommodate this larger scale and an extended ballet sequence was added. There is no doubt that the later version has many improved developments in style, sweep and colour. The new numbers show the progression of Verdi’s ability to express more sophisticated emotional range but the first one shows us Verdi’s direct attempt to write a Shakespearean opera. It is the earlier version that has propulsive vitality and rough originality. This is Verdi’s anti-bel canto opera, the one that he wants to be sung at times almost as speech: ‘The plot is taken from one of the greatest tragedies the theatre boasts, and I have tried to have it well verified, and to give it a new texture, and to compose music tied as far as possible to the text and to the situations’.

Verdi had a close friend in Guilin Carcano who was translating Shakespeare into Italian, and in 1846 he read to Verdi the play of Macbeth. This clearly gripped the composer’s mind and he immediately recommended it as a subject for his commission in Florence and in 1847 Verdi actually saw a performance of Macready’s production in London.

But what we see in the opera is Shakespeare as performed through the traditions of nineteenth century theatre. One particular part of that tradition survives in this early version in the final death aria of Macbeth which is derived from David Garrick’s idea to write himself a stirring climactic death speech, because he believed Shakespeare did not provide Macbeth with a good ending. The librettist, Francesco Mario Piave, simply followed current performance practice. By the time Verdi rewrote it for Paris the taste had changed and Verdi was asked for a heroic chorus of one hundred bards to hail Malcolm’s victory.

So what is remarkable about this first version?

  • It captures in operatic form much of the essence of Shakespeare’s drama.
  • It has the dramatic compression of Verdi’s early works.Constant contrasts used to create drama.
  • A use of music and text which seems to us unsophisticated but cumulatively building to a complex piece of theatre.
  • Directness in presenting the drama.

Verdi laid great emphasis on simplicity: the characters should stand out clearly; the changes in their fortunes or situations should be readily grasped. With this subject he attempted to dramatise the horror and darkness of regicide. But this play had a supernatural element in the witches which connected the action. Verdi wrote to Piave: ‘The subject is neither political or religious; it is fantastical’.

The opera is not about the rise of a modern fascist nor is it about political tyranny. It is a study in character, about ambition for power, a toxic marriage which leads to the inner destruction of the protagonists and the descent of the world into chaos.

An interview with mezzo soprano, Imogen Garner

The end of May marks the beginning of opera rehearsals in London. Before things get under way, I managed to catch up with Imogen Garner who will be joining the opera chorus this year. Imogen studied at the Royal Northern College of Music and has been a member of the Buxton Festival Chorus for the last few years. To read more about Imogen, click here.

Have you always known you wanted to be a singer, or did it develop over time?

I’ve always loved singing and as a child I was drawn to singing based films and programmes. I didn’t realise quite how important it was to me until I reached my twenties, I then applied for a postgrad at the RNCM and was very fortunate to be offered a place.

How did you land your first opera role?

My first operatic role was Annina in La Traviata for Wilmslow Opera.

What made you apply to audition for the Buxton Festival Chorus?

I’ve worked with lots of singers who’ve relished their experience of working in the Festival and so I went along to watch and really enjoyed the atmosphere and feel of it.

You are all covering a role in one of the Festival’s operas this year. Could you tell us a little more about the role?

I’m covering Irene in Handel’s Tamerlano. I’m really enjoying her; she enters the opera expecting to marry Tamerlano but after discovering he has chosen another, she disguises herself and vows to win him back.

How do you start learning a role? Do you approach a role differently each time?

I always intend to approach a role in a systematic way starting with the notes and the music and building layer upon layer but often it becomes less structured and more organic.

Is there a particular opera in this year’s Festival programme that you are looking forward to performing in?

I know most about Tamerlano so the production of that is most intriguing to me at the moment.

For people who are less familiar with opera, is there a particular album or show that you’d recommend?

My first experiences of opera in my late teens were La Traviata and La Boheme at Opera North which I loved.

What has been the most memorable opera production or concert that you have performed in?

I think the most memorable experience to date must have been The Mastersingers at ENO, the audience’s response at the end of the first night was overwhelming.

What would be your dream operatic role and why?

I’d love to have another opportunity to perform Mrs Grose in The Turn of the Screw.

Is there a particular opera singer you really admire?

Kathleen Ferrier. I admire her as she seemed to be someone who remained completely true to herself with very natural and effortless sounding singing and performing

The Tamerlano cover show is on Tuesday 19 July 2-3pm at the Palace Hotel.

Lily Bracegirdle Executive Assistant

An interview with mezzo soprano, Jennifer Parker

This week, I caught up with mezzo soprano, Jennifer Parker who will be singing in the Buxton Festival Chorus this year. She has recently completed her Masters degree at the Royal Northern College of Music.

Have you always known you wanted to be a singer, or did it develop over time?

When I was a little girl I was desperate to be a writer, and was always reading and scribbling. Comparatively I came to singing very late in life and didn’t start having proper lessons until I was 24 years old, and I had an amazing teacher who was a real inspiration. It wasn’t until I was accepted at the RNCM in my late twenties that I began to imagine I could be lucky enough to make singing my career!

How did you land your first opera role?

My first opera role was that of Valencienne in Lehar’s The Merry Widow at the RNCM, and Stefan Janski once told me that he had cast me for my naughty personality – which I suppose is open to many interpretations!

What made you apply to audition for the Buxton Festival Chorus?

I was really eager to audition for the Buxton Festival because of its fantastic commitment to young singers like myself as it offers a host of opportunities to cover roles and perform a variety of repertoire in a range of settings, whilst always maintaining the highest standards of singing.

You are covering a role in one of the Festival’s operas this year. Could you tell us a little more about the role?

I am really excited to be covering the role of Tamerlano, the Emperor of the Tartars at this year’s festival. For those who don’t know the opera, Tamerlano is a mighty leader who is very accustomed to getting his own way no matter what; so when he decides he wants to marry the daughter of his most illustrious prisoner, the Sultan of the Turks, and things don’t go according to plan, he behaves very badly indeed – until he finally sees the error of his ways and his true love talks some sense into him.

Is there a particular opera in this year’s Festival programme that you are looking forward to performing in?

I am particularly excited about the performances of I Capuleti e i Montecchi because the music is so wonderful and it appeals to my former life as an English Literature student – especially given it is 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

How do you start learning a role? Do you approach a role differently each time?

My approach to learning a role varies based on the different demands it places, though for me the most important thing is having a very clear plan. I like to work very methodically through the role and have specific milestones in the process so I am never tempted to leave anything to the last minute or rush anything. As a general rule I always start with the recit as I like to learn it as a script without music first to get the speech-like qualities and language just right; and then anything with coloratura as the quicker I can get that into my muscle memory the better as I will then use these parts of the role to warm up before starting work.

For people who are less familiar with opera, is there a particular album or show that you’d recommend?

For those who are less familiar with opera I would always recommend something funny and English – something like Albert Herring or The Old Maid and the Thief. These pieces are just brilliant, and hopefully would serve to dispel the illusion that opera is stuffy and boring!

What has been the most memorable opera production or concert that you have performed in?

I was fortunate enough to work at Opera Holland Park last year and was part of their wonderful production of Aida. Their re-imagining of the story reset the action to the 1980’s and a decadent party in an antiquities museum. As the party went on we all got wilder and wilder until during the triumphal march scene when all hell breaks loose and, following a strip tease, I ended up upside down and crowd surfing! It was memorable to say the least!

What would be your dream operatic role and why?

I would love the chance to sing the role of Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther one day. Not only is the music breathtakingly beautiful and fascinating to perform as the composer is so specific in his notation, but she is also a very nuanced and intriguing character – someone who has always tried to do the right thing but ends up completely heart broken because of it.

Is there a particular opera singer you really admire?

I am an ardent fan of Sarah Connolly and am a great admirer of her dramatic talents as well as her outstanding musical ones – and I had the incredible opportunity to perform in a masterclass with her whilst at college. Needless to say I was very star struck!

The Tamerlano cover show is on Tuesday 19 July 2-3pm at the Palace Hotel.

Lily Bracegirdle Executive Assistant

Manchester Theatre Awards

Well, it seemed a bit touch and go as to whether we were going to make it to Manchester on Friday 3 March for the MT Awards… The arrival of snow on the Thursday evening and white out on Friday in Buxton – which is something we’re used to up here – but its timing didn’t help matters! So, we donned our wellies, hats, scarves and winter coats to make it to the train station and then made our way to the awards on foot from Piccadilly.

This year, the MTA Awards were hosted at HOME – Manchester’s new arts venue that was Corner House on Oxford Road. On arrival, we were greeted with a glass of bubbly (or orange juice) and made our way to the art gallery on the ground floor where, feeling and looking rather wind swept and soggy from the snow(!) we had our photo taken. We did a bit of celebrity spotting – Arthur Bostrom from ‘Allo ‘Allo!; two Corrie stars who we will know more by their on-screen names – Roy Cropper and Peter Barlow; Louise Brealey from Casualty and Sherlock Holmes; Barrie Rutter from Northern Broadsides, and Anne-Marie Duff who is currently performing at the Royal Exchange in Husbands & Sons. There were plenty of canapés to be had – the goats cheese one a particular favourite with us – and then we headed to the theatre for the awards presentation!

The MT Awards are very much a celebration of theatre and the dramatic arts in Manchester and the surrounding area, and the nominees for all the categories were all high contenders. Categories were interspersed with short performances from current touring productions in the Manchester/north west area. We felt very privileged to have been nominated alongside Opera North, Clonter Opera and the RNCM, but in the end the RNCM triumphed with their production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which one our interns from 2014 starred as Oberon! Several of us from the team went to see the production and they definitely deserved the award – a huge congratulations to everyone who worked on the production!

After the ceremony, we stepped outside to find that all the snow had vanished! Of course, the snow still remained in Buxton and in fact the snow going over the tops on the A34 and near the Cat and Fiddle has only recently disappeared.

The three of us had a good day out – photos from the event can be seen by following the link below!

https://www.facebook.com/manchestertheatreawards/?fref=ts

Lily Bracegirdle Executive Assistant

 

 

We’ve been nominated!

Buxton Festival’s production of Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco (2015) has been nominated in the Opera category at the Manchester Theatre Awards! Members of the Festival team will be heading over to HOME in Manchester on Friday 4th March at a celebrity event(!) to hear the results. A blog post about the day will follow next month. Wish us luck!

The shortlist can be found here.

Buxton Festival presents Giovanna d'Arco. Directed by Elijah Moshinsky. Photo (c) Jonathan Keenan
Giovanna d’Arco (2015)