After Friday’s Macbeth, I rummaged in the programmes for a bit of nostalgia, and found the foolscap heavy card programme for “the first performance at the Royal Opera House of Macbeth, Opera in Four Acts.” Ken must have been taken with it: below 31st March is scribbled 8th April, 16th April and 7th July.
A mention of this performance is included in the performance note in my programme to the 2011 show. Amy Shuard played the Lady to Tito Gobbi’s Macbeth – how different I’m sure that would have been to Simon Keenlyside’s more introspective performance. It should not have been Amy Shuard, but instead Maria Callas. There is a fantastic quote in the programme note, from a Daily Sketch review of that opening night:
Miss Shuard sang magnificently, ferociously last night; her eyes gleamed devilishly enough even to scare Madame Callas – if she had been there to watch.
Ouch. The production – by Michael Bentall, and without Madame Callas – lasted in the repertoire through to 1977. Future Lady Ms included Elena Suliotis and Grace Bumbry.
Doing any googling of Amy Shuard gives a sense of an artist under-rated for her art. In Gramophone, May 1960, the reviewer of a disc of italian arias by Inge Borkh, presumably fresh from hearing Ms Shuard’s ferocious Lady two months’ earlier, asks the question that sums up this feeling:
Miss Borkh’s voice has too little colour in it; and none of the essential quality which Verdi described as cupo (dark, covered over, sombre, obscure) … But has Decca heard of a soprano called Amy Shuard, who could sing all this music rather more convincingly?
A correspondent to the magazine, from December 1967, raises similar points:
Indeed the recording companies are not alone in their shoddy treatment of this great artist. As unbelievable as it may seem, the BBC have never included her in any of their studio opera broadcasts during the whole of her career. In fact this year has produced only one appearance by the diva on the air.
In fact, there is a live recording of the performance available, courtesy of Bella Voce CD, from a BBC transmission. It seems a bit hard to track down, but is available here from the US.
Finally, I can’t resist reproducing the picture in the programme – with all due credits attached – which provides a fabulous glimpse of the gothic ‘Addams Family’ style of production of the piece in that period. Those eyes! Those pointed arches! That ermine! How very different from our own dear production…