«Macbeth’s libretto is an unfortunate reduction of Shakespearean tragedy; mixes together emphasis, violence, dramatic vulgarity. Nor does the master succeed in musically sculpting the characters of Macbeth. He is far from achieving an expression that makes one forget the emptiness of the formulas and stylistic conventions into which the Italian work has fallen. What is most surprising is the decay of musical thought as soon as it hints at wanting to rise and become established ».
Such a critical denial strikes precisely the values for which we admire Macbeth today, the work that for the fourth time in its history will open the season of the Teatro alla Scala (only the colossal grandeur of the main characters, Macbeth and Signora, would be enough. have the conventional or the presence of the fantastic romantic etc.). It is astonishing that this slating was formulated by a musicologist and talented artistic director such as Carlo Gatti, who dedicated an important monograph to Giuseppe Verdi. Macbeth’s condemnation without appeal, which reveals much of the attitude that still weighed on Verdi in 1931, when the monograph by the publisher Alpes was published.
Apart from the Verdi of the peaks, that of maturity, from Aida onwards, and that of the popular trilogy (Traviata, Trovatore, Rigoletto) that Arturo Toscanini and his followers redeemed to new life from the beginning of the twentieth century, much of the “first” Verdi , had to wait for the rebirth. This departed from Expressionist Germany, where works drawn from Schiller’s tragedies (Luisa Miller, Masnadieri, Don Carlo) and Macbeth by Shakespeare found fertile ground with the authority directors of Erich Kleiber, Fritz Busch and Clemens Krauss. At La Scala Macbeth, who had been missing for almost half a century, returned in 1938 with Gino Marinuzzi who brought it back to the honors of the opening night. For the opera to begin to gain space again, it was necessary to wait for the fiftieth anniversary of Verdi’s death, when Vittorio Gui conducted an edition of it at the “Maggio Musicale” in Florence, starring a strong Wagnerian voice, Astrid Varnay, directed by Gustav Gründgens, the famous German actor-director, reckless careerist immortalized by his brother-in-law Klaus Mann in the book Mephisto. Trellis backdrops and veils that supported the expressionist aura of the drama in the most evocative and fantastic way (an eyewitness of that show, Franco Zeffirelli, was bewitched: on stage, he said, “there was the physical presence of Evil”).
The following year, 1952, Victor De Sabata inaugurated the La Scala season with the weight of his musical uniqueness. The direction of that Macbeth was entrusted to an illustrious German director who had founded the Glyndebourne Festival with Busch, Carl Ebert. It was the show in which the chameleon Maria Callas revealed the satanic color of her voice, rising to triumph in a part to which she was able to give total importance, both acting and vocal.
At that time, the judgment on Macbeth was changing, also because even the detractors of Verdi’s so-called “years in prison” did not forget to emphasize that the work was the result of the great revision of 1865, when Verdi rethought his old opera of ‘ 47 for the great boutique of the Paris Opera. A revision that added some of the high points of the work (the choir of Scottish refugees, Patria oppressa, almost a preparatory cartoon for the Requiem Mass), replaced arias and duets with no less happiness, created ex novo a ballet in the great scene of the apparitions and a finale of Beethovenian grandeur. To use the words of one of the most intelligent critic, present at the Florentine resurrection of 51, Giorgio Vigolo: “The French remake did not touch the substance of the monstrum, which was already such in the first birth of ’47 spectacular joint and in a certain a fascinating sense of mixture of beautiful and ugly, of hideous bad taste and leaping sanguine incisiveness: something like a bowed minotaur, who now dances his polkas on his hindquarters to the sound of castanets and guitars, and now falls back, roaring and frightening, on the four hooves of his undeniable strength. So it is difficult to imagine a more sinister scene of this Lady Macbeth intoning the toast of La Traviata among the dances of Louis Philippe, overturned in the remote Scotland of the year 1000 ».
It will be three great protagonists of the director’s theater, Luchino Visconti with the collaboration for sets and costumes by Piero Tosi, Jean Vilar and Giorgio Strehler with Luciano Damiani, respectively opening in 1958 the first Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto with the directorial revelation of Thomas Schippers, returning in 1964 the opera at La Scala with the original and much discussed musical guide by Hermann Scherchen and inaugurating for the third time with the Verdi title the 1976 La Scala season with what became an operatic workhorse of Claudio Abbado, at sanction the definitive consecration of the opera as Verdi’s first Shakespearean masterpiece.