The opening night at La Scala is one of the few examples of a cultural event which overwhelms a whole country: the news is reported all evening, with stories on VIPs and authorities and their outfits. It’s a hugely popular event, which often leaves the music in the background amid the glamorous hullabaloo. But music is what this evening is about, and the 2021 La Scala opening, a new production of Verdi's Macbeth, lived up to all expectations. Riccardo Chailly conducted the orchestra in a loving, affectionate reading of the score.

Luca Salsi (Macbeth) and Anna Netrebko (Lady Macbeth)
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Tempi were at times on the slow side, which may account for his robust support of the singers, in a very emotional night. The performance of the orchestra and the chorus (prepared by Alberto Malazzi) was exemplary. I have to mention the witches in the third act, precise and terrifying. In the brindisi in the second act, instead of making the second repetition louder and heavier, as so many of his past and present colleagues have done, Chailly pulled back, with a softer, slightly slower reading, leaving Lady Macbeth a bit lost, scared, losing control. It was a very effective idea. But, most of all, the chorus which closes Act 1, after the murder of King Duncan, “Schiudi, inferno”, was an explosion of sound and fury, which made your hair stand on end, only to soften up in a terrified prayer, one of Verdi's best – a great musical and theatrical moment.

Anna Netrebko (Lady Macbeth)
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

The cast was one for big occasions. Luca Salsi confirmed his status as one of the leading Verdi baritones of our times. He seemed not fully at ease with the slow tempo chosen by Chailly in “Pieta’, rispetto, amore”, but his beautiful voice was smooth and his legato spotless, while his interpretation was convincing. Diva Anna Netrebko was Lady Macbeth. She seemed a bit tense in the first act, while still delivering a fine “Vieni t'affretta”; her second act was nothing short of spectacular, her enormous, velvety voice shaking the theatre with her amazing central register and her still firm and beautiful high notes. The Sleepwalking Scene was one of the peaks of the evening, her interpretation disturbing and moving. She did attack the super-high D flat from below, and adjusted it only after a while but these small imperfections can be forgiven, in the face of all she brings to the character.

Anna Netrebko (Lady Macbeth)
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Ildar Abdrazakov was a wonderful Banquo; he seemed the only singer to be perfectly at ease from the first moment... and he had to be, as his character dies very soon! He gave a great interpretation of “Come dal ciel precipita”, his only aria, and was an appropriately menacing presence as his ghost tormented Macbeth. As Macduff, Franceso Meli gave an emotional and successful rendition of “Ah, la paterna mano”, with great Verdian intent. The main cast was completed by Chiara Isotton as the Lady-in-Waiting – who alone took the high C in the first stanza of the “Schiudi inferno” chorus – along with Andrea Pellegrini as the doctor and Iván Ayón-Rivas as Malcolm, who all performed admirably, adding lustre to the performance.

Ildar Abdrazakov (Banquo) and Luca Salsi (Macbeth)
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Davide Livermore's production has clear cinematographic references. His staging is framed by videos to the back inspired to Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Christopher Nolan's Inception. Giò Forma's sets are modern/timeless, effectively highlighting the eternal themes of this Shakespearian masterpiece. The colours are on the grey–black scale, with Lady Macbeth’s red gowns (costumes by Gianluca Falaschi) adding a splash of colour.

Luca Salsi (Macbeth)
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Livermore pays particular attention to the television direction, installing cameras in the ubiquitous old-fashioned elevator carrying the characters from one level to the next of the ominous buildings, and, most of all, with a spectacular Sleepwalking Scene, shot from above (we missed it, alas, in the theatre). This attention to film direction, on the one hand makes the television experience much more enjoyable (too often televised operas are dreadful to watch, concentrating on close-ups of grimacing singers and never showing the overall scene), but on the other hand it worries me that an opera director starts directing principally for the televised version instead of the theatre. We’ll see how this trend evolves.

Coro del Teatro alla Scala
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

The production has very effective ideas: Lady Macbeth dancing with the witches during the Sabbath; the splash of red colour to signify the murder, the Scottish people in a “cage” during “Patria oppressa” (what a marvellous rendition by the La Scala chorus!). Also the strongly passionate relationship between Macbeth and his wife was on point (“voluttà del soglio” indeed). I thought the futuristic/dystopian take was effective in telling the story, with gorgeous visuals.

Iván Ayón Rivas (Malcolm), Francesco Meli (Macduff) and the Coro del Teatro alla Scala
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

The loggionisti did not betray expectations. They severely booed the production, they booed Netrebko at the curtain call, and they even booed her after “Vieni, t’affretta”. Haters gonna hate. 

****1