Filmed in June 2011, Phyllida Lloyd’s Covent Garden staging of Verdi’s opera has a good deal going for it; there’s plenty of atmosphere in Anthony Ward’s aptly dark-toned sets, to which the image of the golden cage representing the burden of kingship adds a rare splash of colour. Lloyd’s use of processions can be powerful, especially in the horse-borne line of future kings conjured up by the witches to show Macbeth the future. They, meanwhile, control the action, carrying Macbeth’s letter to his wife and saving Banquo’s son from the assassins. While there’s an ugliness to visual proceedings – the witches’ red turbans look hideous – that arguably matches the murk and mayhem of the subject. All of these elements come up with particular sharpness on Blu-ray.
Ideally, more focus is needed in the acting performances, though at a purely vocal level the cast is consistently impressive. Yet none of them has much of interest to say in their short interviews, part of the bonus material along with a rehearsal sequence under Antonio Pappano, who explores the complexity of the conductor’s task.
The edition performed is the 1865 revision, minus the ballet but with Macbeth’s 1847 death scene added back in: it extends the opera, meaning it effectively ends twice. Simon Keenlyside sings the title role with imagination and insight, even if his lyric approach doesn’t command the full cut and thrust of a true Verdi baritone. As his wife, Liudmyla Monastyrska proves a soprano with a comprehensively strong technique but a cliché-ridden actress (too much evil laughter). Raymond Aceto’s Banquo is rich-toned from its melancholy heart to its cast-iron surface, while Dimitri Pittas’s Macduff is exciting if musically careless. Pappano is an authoritative Verdian, punching the score out into the theatre.