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Image Entertainment presents
Giuseppe Verdi's Macbeth (2001)

"Who would have thought the old man had so much blood in him?"
- Lady Macbeth (Paoletta Marrocu)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: January 14, 2003

Stars: Thomas Hampson, Paoletta Marrocu, Roberto Scandiuzzi, Luis Lima, Liuba Chuchrova, Miroslav Christoff, Peter Kálmán
Other Stars: Chorus and Orchestra of the Zurich Opera House, Franz Welser-Möst, conductor
Director: Thomas Grimm

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes, implied violence)
Run Time: 02h:18m:43s
Release Date: November 26, 2002
UPC: 014381162929
Genre: opera

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A-A-A D-

DVD Review

One would think that The Scottish Play would be a natural for adaptation for opera. It has everything: violence, blood and thunder, madness and even the supernatural. But for whatever reason, few have attempted it (Beethoven made an attempt but, as is par for the course with this notoriously jinxed source material, his librettist died halfway through Act II) and only Verdi's version is still performed today, and that rather infrequently. The gap is remedied by this powerful rendition that makes the most of what Verdi provides.

The story closely follows Shakespeare's play. Scottish Thane Macbeth (Thomas Hampson) meets a group of witches in the midst of a battle, and is prophesied to become king; his friend Banquo (Robert Scandiuzzi) will have children who will be a line of kings. Upon telling the prophecy to his wife (Paoletta Marrocu), Macbeth is tempted to slay King Duncan and seize the throne to fulfill it. But that is not enough blood, for there is the threat of Banquo's lineage, and the new king seeks to slay them all. Upon meeting the witches again, Macbeth is given three prophecies that appear to him to be favorable assurances of safety, but within them lie disguised portents of doom instead.

The weakest part of Verdi's work is obviously the finale; in the worst possible dramatic tradition, he has the climactic action all take place offstage, and even then it's none too clearly described. One unfamiliar with the source material will likely end up rather puzzled at the end; this fact no doubt helps explain why this is in the second or even third rank of the Verdi portfolio. But the music is not at all second-rate, and the performances here are gloriously equal to the task.

Particularly stellar is soprano Paoletta Marrocu, who seizes the role of Lady Macbeth and runs wild with it. There's nothing an operatic soprano likes better than a mad scene in which to show off, and the part of Lady Macbeth is essentially one enormous mad scene. Marrocu is simply electrifying from beginning to end, with a formidable grasp on this character, yet also giving glimpses of her love for her husband beneath the fury of her lust for power. One would fear that the title character would be lost in opposition to such a force of nature, but happily baritone Thomas Hampson is equal to Marrocu's pyrotechnics. Their Act II duet is particularly gripping and powerful. Hampson's baritone is rich and solid, without the wishy-washy quality that so often plagues this vocal range. One expects to hear great things in the future from both of these artists. The chorus is generally good, though the first witches' chorus is a little on the sloppy side. Other choruses exhibit fine articulation and diction, however.

The staging will not be for all tastes. A modern sensibility is used, with a variety of modern dress appearing, and a minimalist staging. Some elements are effective, such as the creepy appearance of the parade of spirits, the scrim with a foreboding gigantic clock face that partially obscures Duncan's entrance, and most notably the mirrored bedroom of the Macbeths, with the pair still visible in the background in the throes of passion as Banquo is murdered in the foreground. Lady Macbeth is clad most of the time in a revealing black gown clearly inspired by dominatrix costume; seeing Marrocu in this, one does not wonder at all why Macbeth obeys her. Other elements are less successful and just raise questions. Why is there a child carrying a typewriter into several scenes? Why is Duncan's blood neon green? Why are some of the witches clad in newspaper? But these are fairly minor quibbles in light of the terrific performances on view here.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture looks as good as any staged opera production I've ever seen. Excellent clarity and detail is on view throughout. The stage lighting is unnatural, heavily weighted to a single color in various scenes. While vivid, color is never oversaturated.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Italianyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Italian soundtrack is presented in three flavors: Dolby Surround, DD 5.1 and that rarity these days, full bitrate DTS surround. Switching between the three, the 2.0 was plainly different, giving a much narrower soundstage and less rich sound, even after correcting for volume differences. Surprisingly enough, I was able to detect no serious difference between 5.1 tracks. Both have excellent richness, depth and clarity, with a wide soundfield but no overt directionality. Minor ambient hiss is present on all three tracks, but it's well within tolerable range for a live production. The one problem area in ambient noise is what sounds like an electric fan late in Act I as Macbeth sees the knife floating before him. The audience is well-behaved and respectful during the music, and appropriately appreciative after the more spectacular numbers.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 29 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:17m:11s

Extras Review: The one thing keeping this from being a hit all around is the dearth of extras. The English subtitles are removable, chaptering is adequate, and the layer change is well placed between acts II and III.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

A minor work from the Verdi canon, with two lead performances that grab the viewer by the throat and don't let go. Absolutely riveting vocals and an excellent transfer make this one highly recommended.


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