Macbeth – Stockholm Konserthus

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Last week we had a great event here in Stockholm. No less than the great Maestro Riccardo Muti came here and conducted a Macbeth, in concert form. I’ll say it right away: no matter how much I despise Muti as a human being, he was brilliant. It was the best thing I’ve listened to here in Stockholm since I live here.

Yes, it’s true, Il Maestro believes he’s Toscanini’s spiritual heir, and so he creates a lot of sound, really an excessive amount, which at times strays into chaos, and unbearable heaviness. These kind of moments, which still were there (the opening of the toast gave me a heart attack), were small exceptions, in an evening where the Kungliga Filarmonikerna orchestra played really well, with an incisiveness and a passion that I rarely heard, from them. Muti’s conducting was precise, careful, detailed, passionate. And he didn’t even mistreat too much the singers, as he usually does, rushing them, and not leaving them enough time to breathe. All in all, a triumph. Damn him.

Best player of the evening, the choir, the Eric Ericsons Kammarkör, reinforced by a few members of the Kungliga Operan chorus (as my well informed sources tell me). The Eric Ericson choir is famous for its clean, dry, precise sound, with no vibrato (in fact, they are absolutely wonderful in the baroque repertoire); so I was a bit skeptical in their approach to Verdi. They were spectacular. With their legendary precision, their musicality, and a truly elegant phrasing, the singers gave us a memorable performance, with none of the vulgarities which sometimes we hear in the opera theaters. The choral parts in Macbeth are full of bear traps, of pages that are extremely easy to sing badly. The Eric Ericsons Kammarkör managed to sing with intelligence even the witches’ choruses, even the screams of Trema Banco!, closing every musical phrase, and giving it a nice shape. Bravissimi!

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From the left: Francesco Meli, Luca Salsi, Ildar Adbrazakov.

Macbeth was Luca Salsi, I really liked him a lot. His voice is very Italian, very much in tune, mellow, well set, and he gives great interpretation. His Macbeth is immediately doubtful and weak; he takes strength, will and determination from his wife, and when he questions the witches, then he falls apart in the toast scene. The last aria was simply wonderful.

Lady Macbeth was Vittoria Yeo, a less convincing Korean singer. She sings very well, but her voice is a bit thin for Lady Macbeth. a bit weak. She gave a great interpretation, starting with a remarkable letter scene, but then the first aria was somewhat weak. She improved; probably she was also a bit nervous at the beginning. The toast was wonderful, and the last scene (Una macchia è qui tuttora) almost moving.

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Vittoria Yeo

The amazing bass Ildar Adbrazakov, who I had already heard as Don Basilio in the Barber of Seville in Paris, was Banco. The first duet with Macbeth absolutely great, and his only aria was wonderful. His voice is amazing, the kind of voice I like. I will probably start following him.

The tenor, Macduff, was Francesco Meli, a good voice, solid and strong. He’s a bit of a “tenor”, somewhat boisterous, jumping on high notes, not particularly elegant. But he did his job, and the aria La paterna mano came out very well.

Malcolm was the tenor Antonello Ceron, a routine singer who sings a lot in Italy; he sings Ruiz in Trovatore, the messenger in Aida, and so on. His voice is beautiful and confident, and he did his job.

The two minor roles (Lady Macbeth’s maid, and the doctor) were two local singers: Sara Olsson, who I had already heard in Falstaff, in Stockholm, and John Erik Eleby. Both very good.

The performance was a tremendous success, the theater was completely full (despite prices anything but cheap), and the standing ovation was endless. It seemed to me a sign that maybe the Stockholm Konserthus, just like the Kungliga Operan, could afford to become a bit more daring, and call some international star more often. Clearly the Stockholm audience is willing to spend more money to see shows of this level.

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4 comments

  1. Interesting about the choir (I’m always on the lookout for a good choirs), thanks! Also, I may have lived under a rock but why is Muti a horrible human being?

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    • Muti. It’s a long, very Italian, story. He became director at La Scala after Claudio Abbado. The Abbado years were glorious, at La Scala. During his direction all the greatest singers were singing in Milan, and La Scala was really the most revered opera theater in the world.

      Enters Muti, in 1986. He basically stopped calling big stars to sing at La Scala, because HE always had to be the biggest star of the performance. His ego was literally too big for the biggest opera theater in Europe. In the theater where Mirella Freni was booed as Traviata, because she wasn’t Maria Callas, he had Tiziana Fabbricini sing Traviata. Who? Exactly. He made a point of staging operas with total nobodys, just to show how powerful he was, and just to shine brighter himself.

      There are recordings of press conferences and interviews where he sounds so full of himself that you really have a hard time believing it. He truly believed he was god’s gift to music.

      His lust for power was legendary, he didn’t tolerate any dissent, any critical voice. He had strong, important political connections, which he didn’t hesitate to use for his petty vendettas. He had a list of musical critics and journalists who were not allowed into the theater. He got a historical radio program about opera suspended from the Italian public radio, because they dared criticize his performances.

      Also, in coincidence with the beginning of his reign (it may be just a coincidence, of course) La Scala stopped reserving tickets for the audience coming from outside Milan, and all of us, who didn’t live in Milan, were deprived of the possibility to get tickets (there was no Internet in those years).

      The La Scala orchestra HATED HIM. They went on wild strikes against him; there was an incident where he, rather than cancelling the performance after the orchestra went on strike, played a whole Traviata on a grand piano for the audience. In the end, in 2005, he was in the middle of a turmoil of people trying to get rid of him, and the whole orchestra voted to sack him. It was a disgrace, an utter humiliation.

      In all fairness, he also used his horrible character and his ego for good causes. He walked out of many a performance because he didn’t tolerate the ridiculous production, something that I wish more conductors would do. In 2011 he made a bold statement against the cuts to the arts of the Berlusconi government (you can read about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riccardo_Muti#Political_intervention).

      You can read some of the story here:
      http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Riccardo_Muti.aspx
      and on Wikipedia.

      I also have some problems with his direction, sometimes he really sounds like the a caricature of Toscanini. But damn he was good the other night.

      Liked by 2 people

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