Buxton International Festival are currently staging Verdi’s first, 1847 Macbeth, written for the Teatro della Pergola, Florence, a theatre similar in size to the Edwardian jewel-box of Buxton’s own Opera House (just look how beautiful it is). This earlier version is a shorter, sharper work, which sees Macbeth dying on stage with one final aria to bewail his fate, just as actor David Garrick created his own death speech for the role in the 18th century (apparently believing Shakespeare’s ending insufficient – see JSTOR article here). Verdi created a savagely intense drama which builds with deceptive simplicity and terrifying speed: every scene feels almost too late to stop the disaster, as the Macbeths hurtle inexorably into blood, madness, and self-destruction.
Director Elijah Moshinsky, in his programme note, cites the “propulsive vitality” of this 1847 version, and by God, he delivers it on stage. Stephen Gadd inhabited Macbeth with chilling sensuality and greed; tempted and haunted by ambition from the very start. Kate Ladner conveyed this in spades, with exceptional presence and strength as Lady Macbeth, using her voice as a true dramatic instrument to attack the role with vibrato, grit, and even an eerily childlike vulnerability.