Neapolitan composer Leonardo Leo (1694-1744) was one of the forerunners of the Classical style, a composer primarily of opera. His experiments with a lighter, freer concept of melody in his comic operas spilled over into instrumental works like these cello composers of 1737 and 1738, which have a flavor all their own. They owe little to the concertos of Vivaldi, which must have been well known even as far south as Naples.
This epic opera inspired by Shakespeare's tragic masterpiece was written in 1847, but did not receive its British premiere until 1938 when it was presented for the first time at Glyndebourne. The tragedy is a penetrating, concentrated, and harrowing study of the ambition of Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth. In the end both seem to verge on hallucination and madness as they recoil from the mayhem they have created around them. The production features an outstanding international cast, with the Greek baritone Kostas Paskalis in the title role and British star Josephine Barstow making an exciting debut as Lady Macbeth. Proceedings are conducted by the sympathetic baton of John Prithard.
The outstanding production of Verdi’s Masked Ball at the Salzburg Festivals 1989 and 1990 was Herbert von Karajan’s legacy to the Festival. Supported by a cast of superlative actor-singers in opulent scenery, Sir George Solti agreed to conduct the opera at short notice after Karajan’s unexpected death in 1989. The production had been expected to be a highlight in Karajan’s series of Verdi operas at Salzburg. Karajan’s celebrated ability to unite a cultivated sound with dramatic effects was known to create extraordinary and highly acclaimed opera events. For Un ballo in maschera Karajan planned something unusual: He would not set the opera in colonial Massachusetts, as the censors had forced Verdi to do when he was composing the work, but in Stockholm in the 1790s at the court of King Gustav III of Sweden, as Verdi had originally conceived his work. Together with the film director John Schlesinger and his stage team, Karajan developed a concept that promised theatrical splendour equal to the musical excellence that the conductor and the handpicked cast of singers would surely provide in collaboration with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
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