‘A Life in Opera Programmes’ 2: Macbeth, Royal Opera House, 31 March 1960

1960 Royal Opera Programme - Macbeth - CoverAfter 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.

Macbeth CD Cover - Bella VoceIn 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.

Tito Gobbi, Macbeth, and Amy Shuard, his Lady, Royal Opera 1960Finally, 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…

6 comments

  1. I might add that the July performances were with Giuseppe Taddei not Gobbi. I went to both and really preferred Taddei. Shuard sang this role for several more seasons with Cornell Macneil and Kostas Paskalis.
    The recording, which was a BBC transmission, is a no-starter really because Gobbi was ill and you can hear his voice disappearing as the evening continues culminating in him having to omit his great last-act aria. Everyone seems to be affected by this misfortune though you do still get some idea of the quality of Shuard’s interpretation. She was a fantastic performer in so many roles but rather taken for granted and ignored by the record companies to their shame.

    1. Thanks for taking time to comment, and for the extra detail, really interesting – it certainly comes across from everything I read about Shuard that the lack of recordings was an opportunity missed. I really enjoy looking back through this programme collection and hopefully the few words here and there about them are of interest…!

  2. Shuard sang Brünnhilde in the very first opera I saw at the ROH, and was also my first Turandot and Elektra so you can see where he strengths lay. She was eclipsed at the time of course by Nilsson.

    A powerful dramatic soprano that did become a bit unyielding and hard edged. Sadly she died relatively young.

    http://www.OperaDepot.com has several of her live recordings.

  3. I first saw her at Covent Garden as Butterfly with Kempe conducting and then Lisa with Kubelik conducting and Amelia in Ballo with Downes – all in 1956 and all in English. Later that same year she created the title role in Jenufa on the British stage. The following years she sang Liu again with Kempe and then created Cassandra in the first complete Trojans. In 1957 she was Aida in a new production in Italian and in 1958 sang her first Turandot – in English – cond.John Pritchard. In 1959 she added Sieglinde and Santuzza and 1960 brought Lady Macbeth. Her first Walkure Brunnhilde with Solti was in 1961. She continued to sing Aida, Amelia (now in Italian) and Lady Macbeth. She also sang Fidelio with Horenstein. A new production of Turandot was mounted for her in 1963 – in Italian. Then came Elektra, the complete Brunnhilde and Kundry. Her last new role, her voice sadly diminished by illness, was Kostelnicka. I great artist and voice – sadly undervalued and underrecorded though quite a few ‘pirates’ are available some in very good sound. Among others I have Turandot from 1963, Brunnhilde 1965 and Isolde 1969 cond.Colin Davis (a BBC studio broadcast).

    1. By the 7th July Gobbi had been replaced by Giuseppe Taddei. Though a great admirer of Gobbi I thought Taddei was even finer. Shuard was a magnificent Lady M. and it’s tragic she was never recorded commercially. The BBC broadcast with her and Gobbi which can be found on CD is lamed by Gobbi being indisposed and gradually losing his voice as the evening proceeds causing him to omit his great Act Four aria – and putting everyone on edge I think. A superb broadcast from the Teatro Colon 1964 has Shuard and Taddei in magnificent form and can also be found on CD.

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