In a sense it was 'black Romanticism' that cast its shadow over the operatic repertory at the 1964 Salzburg Festival. Performed in the Felsenreitschule, Verdi’s 'Macbeth' was a musical event of the first order, exciting to hear and powerfully acclaimed at the end. This was due not least to Wolfgang Sawallisch’s dramatically gripping conducting of the Vienna Philharmonic, but also to an exemplary pair of protagonists. In complete control of his formidable vocal gifts, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau provided a multifaceted portrait of the complex and unfathomable figure of Macbeth, while Grace Bumbry was no less impressive as Lady Macbeth, bringing to the part an unusual degree of demonism and proving to be in total command of the part’s tremendous vocal difficulties in terms of stamina, range and artistry.
This was Bumbry's debut rôle at the Vienna State Opera, also in 1964, and her first as a soprano, having started as a mezzo in 1960. She was the first black singer to sing at Bayreuth, eliciting 42 curtain calls and a certain amount of media fever and debate as to her true fach. She studied with Lehman and the voice is in pristine condition here, aged only 27.
“Though the title-role brings a gruff weight to Fischer-Dieskau's lower range, his innate vocal refinement is bound to make Macbeth a bit more regal, while his Lieder-influenced readings give his characterisation a greater sense of moral dilemma...[Bumbry] uses her own brand of plush vocal force as needed (which is often)...there's edge to burn: the often reserved Sawallisch maintains no interpretative objectivity here”
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