University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Shakespeare: Macbeth

11/04/2018 1:00 pm
11/04/2018 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

Between 1987 and 2014, I have broadcast various recordings of Verdi's opera Macbeth (1847) on at least four occasions, and then on Sunday, October 28, 2001, I broadcast a recording of Ernest Bloch's Macbeth opera (1910). This Sunday I offer you a recording of Shakespeare's original play. Spoken word presentations have always been part of my broad spectrum concept of lyric theater programming.

I have broadcast recordings of many of William Shakespeare's plays. Often these were on early stereo Decca/Argo LPs. These studio recordings, made between 1957 and 1964, were part of Decca's series of the complete recorded works of Shakespeare, issued in commemoration of the four hundredth anniversary of his birth. It was an audio project of historic significance equal to Decca's first-ever complete studio recording series of Wagner's Ring cycle of operas made during the same period with Georg Solti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and a singing cast of some of the greatest operatic voices of the mid twentieth century.

Decca's Shakespeare project engaged renowned director George Rylands and the Marlowe Dramatic Society of Cambridge University, plus other "professional players," who were some of the best Shakespearean actors and actresses that Britain possessed. Many of them remain famous names even now in the twenty-first century. In 2016 the entire Decca Shakespeare series--all thirty seven plays, the sonnets, and narrative poems--was reissued on compact disc to mark the four hundredth anniversary of the playwright's death. I have acquired the 100 CD Decca/Argo boxed set. I draw upon its discs again this Sunday as I did most recently on Sunday, May 6th of this year with my broadcast of the early comedy Love's Labours Lost.

The tragedy of Macbeth was written years later, dating after Hamlet, probably in 1606. Theatrical superstition has it that this is the Bard's jinxed play, and to avoid misfortune its official name must never be uttered in parlance among theater folk. They speak of it only as "the Scottish play." Macbeth is the shortest of Shakespeare's tragedies. Even the poetic versification of the play is terse, compacted and constrained. The delivery of so many of the lines is rapid fire to the point of throw-away. This quality of the verse contributes to the overall mood of the play, rendering it so dark and spooky. The bloody doings of the story surely suit the dark and dismal month of November. Macbeth, the ill-fated Thane of Cawdor, is Tony Church. Lady Macbeth is Irene Worth.