December 14, 2017
Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Colón’s Macbeth: black and red tragedy

A scene from the Marcelo Lombardero’s version of Macbeth at the Colón Theatre.
A scene from the Marcelo Lombardero’s version of Macbeth at the Colón Theatre.
A scene from the Marcelo Lombardero’s version of Macbeth at the Colón Theatre.
By Pablo Bardin
For the Herald
Medieval Scottish drama is relocated to 1950s Balkans but set design, performances measure up

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is one of the blackest tragedies he wrote and the most concise. It matters little that this medieval Scottish drama disregards history, for in fact Duncan was the villain and Macbeth a good ruler. What counts is its terrible denunciation of murder as the path to absolute power, the psychological complexity of the ruling couple, the corroding strength of remorse, and its memorable phrases.

One of the mysteries of music is that the best operas on Shakespeare weren’t written by the British but by an Italian: Giuseppe Verdi. He only knew the great playwright in translations, but that was enough to ignite his imagination and understand that he had found golden material. And indeed, Verdi’s Macbeth, Otello and Falstaff are the most important Shakespearean operas in history.

The first version of Macbeth is dated 1847 and is by far Verdi’s greatest opera prior to the so-called popular trilogy (La Traviata, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore). Although he revised it in 1865, most of the material stayed as it was, the basic changes being the addition of Lady Macbeth’s aria La luce langue and a new triumphant ending.

Francesco Piave’s libretto (with some additions by Andrea Maffei) is extremely faithful to Shakespeare, though some scenes are excised. And the witches’ two crucial scenes are respected, since the underworld is essential for both Shakespeare and Verdi. As the original premièred in Florence and the revision in Paris, the latter had to have a ballet for the witches, and this is currently cut.

Verdi was only 34 when he created his 10th opera, and in it what he did was unique, for he explores new grounds: the singers rarely have to deal with virtuosic writing but need to involve themselves with the characters to the point of total identification — so you need great artists rather than outstanding singers. And the orchestra creates ambiences of disquiet and terror.

At the Colón, it was offered only in 1939 before the great performances of 1962 and 1964 established it in the repertoire: Shuard, Colzani/Taddei, conductor Previtali, and the truly innovative production by Pöttgen. Unfortunately, by 1998 the production by Jérôme Savary was contaminated by the distortion trend that has ruined European production ever since. And last year something even worse happened: a South African company presented a total travesty with a “Congolese Macbeth” where snatches of Verdi could be heard and poor Shakespeare was torn to pieces.

The opera is mediaeval and Scottish, but in this operatic season Marcelo Lombardero’s production is set in the 1950s in a vague location in the Balkans. So the references to Glamis, Birnam Wood, Cawdor, Fiffe and the English go for nothing. Ah, but you have to resignify it for our times, for we are so silly that we can’t understand the mediaeval struggle for power. So at the end you see a bombarded modern town and not an inkling of the Birnam wood advancing. Banquo is killed in a train station. Why then a barbed wire in “a deserted spot near the border with England?” And why after the final chorus of peace are people repressed? But we have plenty of red blood.

Granted, the massive set designs of Diego Siliano are well done, and the apparitions of ghosts are effective (also by Siliano). Costumes by Luciana Gutman follow the producer’s instructions. The lighting by Horacio Efron is skilful.

Lady Macbeth is a fearsome role, and Callas’s record of the arias set the standard. Chaira Taigi (debut) is beautiful but that’s not a plus in this role: she has to inspire dread with her acting and singing, and she doesn’t. The voice is middling, for she neither has a firm top nor solid lows. However, she found her best form in the Somnambulist scene. The Argentine Fabián Veloz, replacing the announced Jorge Lagunes, was admirable, a true Verdian baritone with timbre, volume, musicality and dramatic presence. A plus: for the first time at the Colón, we hear Macbeth’s farewell to the world (from the 1847 version).

Aleksander Teliga (debut) was a Banquo of little vocal presence, but Gustavo López Manzitti was very expressive and accurate as Macduff. The rest were in the picture. Excellent work from the Colón Choir (Miguel Martínez) and a welcome return of conductor Stefano Ranzani, who lent full dramatic impact to the music with a collaborative orchestra.

Where and when

Colón Theatre (Cerrito 628, Today at 5pm. On October 4, 5 and 7 at 8pm. Tickets available at the venue and from

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