Name your favorite Lady Macbeth from Verdi’s opera. Go ahead. I bet many of you threw around the name Maria Callas. Or Leonie Rysanek, Shirley Verrett or in modern times Anna Netrebko, Maria Guleghina or Liudmyla Monastyrska.
How many of you had Mara Zampieri at the top of that list? For those of you who picked the Italian soprano, who turns 65 years-old on Jan. 30, 2017, thank you.
If you Google search her name, videos of this role are the first ones to pop up. But unfortunately, she isn’t among the most popular of singers, her interpretation often getting unjustly overlooked.
I personally adore her interpretation, finding so many fascinating elements in it that I find in few others. For one, the vocal approach fits into Verdi’s original call for anything but a beautiful voice. Many singers due this brilliantly, but Zampieri has impeccable timing. You might be lulled into hearing for a bit and then suddenly, she’ll do something you feel like you’ve never heard before. Amid her rapid vibrato, she’ll throw in a tone that lacks it altogether, adding a sudden contrast from a more wholesome tone. She hits all the coloratura passages with directness and accuracy that few others achieve, the clarity giving the character’s violent qualities more edge. And her sudden tempo shifts add tremendous excitement to the proceedings. I don’t think there is a recording out there in which the soprano manages those final coloratura runs on “Il pugnal” in the Act 1 cabaletta “Por tutti sorgette” with such exactitude, every single note discernible.
And can we please talk about the piannissimi? Her voice takes on an airy complexion that is ghoulish in nature, making the character all the more frightening and conniving. This is most powerful in her “La Luce Langue” as through her voice we can hear snake-like utterances during the phrases “Ai trapassati regnar non cale; A loro un requiem, leternità;” we can practically feel the slime. It’s chilling.
And yet when she uses this very technique during the sleepwalking scene, the airy quality expresses the life being sucked out of her. Where some singers might see this as a battle to stay alive, as Leyla Gencer does in her fantastic recording, the struggle has already been decided in Zampieri’s, making us suddenly see a fragile Lady Macbeth that has collapsed under the weight of her crimes. Watching her acting, still physically but potent in her facial expression, we are instantly drawn into every single moment, every phrase like a last breathe, the sense of doom growing more and more prominent as the scene unfolds. Her “Ahime” halfway through is but a gasp of sound, propelling her voice back to life for but a few moments before descending into nothingness, her eyes agape. Extended notes that require full vocal resources still showcase a more delicate approach from earlier expressions, no passage delivered with any aggression. At times it is almost like watching a completely different character from the more vicious and calculated version we see in the other scenes, giving this performance tremendous dramatic range and nuance.