Macbeth, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Violeta Urmana, who sang the part of Lady Macbeth in this concert performance of Verdi's opera, is the real thing. She is the kind of international star who adds glitter and glory to any performance of anything. Which is not to say that she does not also project character; but she dominates the whole proceedings, whether it's called for or not. Even when orchestra, chorus and all the other principals are letting rip, you can still hear the gleam of Urmana's voice atop everything. Such a sound must be the ultimate splendour of the lyric stage.

Fortunately, Italian opera was written for singers like this; Macbeth is a splendid vehicle for a great soprano. Urmana's Lady Macbeth had huge imperial grandeur. She was self-willed, singleminded, without any real misgivings. And vocally, she had total command; the voice soars easily to the top, or descends into a booming low tone, always with a fabulous richness and unimpeachable musicality.

She projected the words with ferocious emphasis, sometimes swooping up to a vowel from a consonant that was spoken, not sung, a very thrilling effect.

But this is also an emotionally complex piece; there was nothing mad, nothing uncanny in this portrayal, no straying into self-doubt or loss of nerve. Only in the sleepwalking scene was there at last pathos, a touch of lament, but it was still joined to a perfect vocal focus.

Macbeth himself, Mark Delavan, is also a singer of immense power and confidence, with an abundant flow of expressive tone. However, he was also able develop character, suggesting a man out of control who descended at last into wild desperation. In such heavyweight company, he gave his all and then some, and the voice tired a little towards the end. In fact, this was a dream cast. John Relyea was a dark, massive Banquo, and Marius Brenciu (Macduff) a fine, ringing histrionic tenor. Even the tiny part of the Doctor was cast at strength.

The overwhelming impression was of absolute security. Success was snatched easily from the jaws of success. But all efficient undertakings depend on clever management, and it was the unerring direction of Sir Charles Mackerras that made it come together. You studied his gestures to guess the secret of his fabulous tempi, but they just seemed to materialise from nowhere, like Banquo's ghost.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra played without a care in the world, and the women of the Festival Chorus made the witches sound entirely credible - a bunch of howling wild girls. There was nothing strange, irrational, revelational about this performance, but it was breathtaking, opera at its biggest and best.