If the concept behind Phyllida Lloyd's direction at the Royal Opera House production of Verdi's Macbeth (revived here under director Harry Fehr) isn't immediately obvious and doesn't seem totally coherent, it's perhaps because the marriage of Verdi and Shakespeare itself in this earlier opera of the composer (unlike the magnificent later adaptations Otello and Falstaff) isn't the most consistent or coherent either. Lloyd's production however remains faithful to Verdi's imperfect interpretation of the work, working closely to mirror the tone of the production with what Simon Keenlyside, in an accompanying interview on the DVD and Blu-ray, vividly describes as the "black tides" of Verdi's score. Partly, that's mirrored in the black, white and red colour schemes, but there's also a sense that the production wants to put all the dark violence, all the horror and its consequences right up there on the stage also.
Here the true nature of the violence is made ever present, and the full extent of its consequences made real. The reign of blood that is embarked upon is visible throughout here and no amount of hand-washing will completely erase it. The stage is often littered with the bodies of Macbeth's crimes that usually take place off-stage, and since all this is so vividly described in Verdi's score, why shouldn't it? Directing the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Antonio Pappano seems determined also to tease out some greater subtleties in the score that aren't really there (although the Currentzis/Tcherniakov production for the Paris Opera would beg to differ) and, consequently, it's a little bit too delicate when a bit of a heavier punch would be more appropriate, but it does nonetheless manage to draw that gloomy darkness out of the work very well. For all its efforts to put the horror up on the stage and the close attention paid to the score however, there's initially a detachment between the orchestration and the performances in Act I at least, which seems to be down to there not being enough attention paid to the acting. Things warm up a little by the end of Act II, Act III's potions, prophesies and apparitions are delightfully staged, and thereafter the deepening horror of the drama and the score starts to make the full extent of its presence felt.
At the very least, the listener will be beaten into submission - as they should be - by the singing and presence of Lady Macbeth. The formidable ringing tone and sheer power of Ukranian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska's voice certainly achieves that, even if there isn't always an emotional depth behind her pronouncements and her acting ability is practically non-existent. With that voice, and Verdi behind it, that's not something to worry about in this particular opera however. On the lighter end of the register Simon Keenlyside is a true Verdi baritone. His consideration of his lines and delivery of them makes real the forced bravado and the underlying horror of his fate that lies in his character. That's quite impressive, particularly in his death scene aria 'Mal per me' (the opera working from Verdi's 1865 revision of the opera, but successfully reinstating some of the 1847 cuts like this one). Banquo is also well served by American bass, Raymond Aceto, and his Gran Scena 'Studia il passo, o mio figlio' is sung very well.
The Blu-ray release of Macbeth is up to the expected high standards, the strong high contrast lighting showing good detail, while the mixing on both the PCM Stereo and DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 tracks give a fine account of the score, the mixing (along with Pappano's conducting), achieving a good balance between the orchestration and the singing voices. Extras on the BD include a Cast Gallery, Behind the Scenes Rehearsals and Interviews with Simon Keenlyside, Raymond Aceto and Liudmyla Monastyrska. Subtitles are in Italian, English, French, German and Spanish.