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As we prepare for Riccardo Muti‘s interpretation of Verdi’s Macbeth, we’re reminded that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has quite the performance history with the opera, both in whole and in part.

The CSO first performed music from Verdi’s Macbeth at the Ravinia Festival on July 21, 1977, under the baton of James Levine, the Festival’s music director. The first half of the program included selections from several Verdi operas (I vespri siciliani, Aida, La traviata, and Simon Boccanegra), but the second half was dedicated solely to Macbeth. Soprano Marisa Galvany (a last-minute replacement for an indisposed Martina Arroyo) and baritone Cornell MacNeil performed several selections, including the scena and duet from act 1, scene 2; “Pietà, rispetto, amore”; “Una macchia è qui tuttora”; and “Ove son io?”

Ravinia Festival, June 26, 1981

Ravinia Festival, June 26, 1981

Opening the Ravinia Festival’s forty-sixth season, the CSO gave its first complete performance of Verdi’s Macbeth on June 26, 1981. James Levine conducted, and the complete cast was as follows:

Macbeth Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Banquo John Cheek, bass-baritone
Lady Macbeth Renata Scotto, soprano
Servant/Herald Rush Tully, bass-baritone
Macduff Giuliano Ciannella, tenor
Malcolm Timothy Jenkins, tenor
Lady-in-Waiting Gene Marie Callahan, soprano
Assassin/Warrior Duane Clenton Carter, baritone
Bloody Child Sharon Graham, mezzo-soprano
Crowned Child Michelle Harman-Gulick, soprano
Physician Terry Cook, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
James Winfield, associate director

On one of our previous From the Archives CD collections, we released the scene that begins “Una macchia, è qui tuttora” from act 4 (with Scotto, Callahan, and Cook). The set—A Tribute to James Levine—was released in 2004 and was volume 18 in the series.

Verdi Choruses album cover

At Orchestra Hall, the Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by Margaret Hillis and guest chorus master Terry Edwards) performed numerous choruses from Verdi’s operas and the Requiem, including two from Macbeth: “Tre volte miagola” and “Patria oppressa!” on November 2, 3, and 4, 1989. Sir Georg Solti led the first two concerts, and Kenneth Jean led the November 4 performance.

With Solti conducting, the choruses were recorded by London Records. Michael Haas was the producer, James Lock was the engineer, and Deborah Rogers was the tape editor.

Also at the Ravinia Festival, bass-baritone James Morris performed “Studia il passo, o mio figlio!” on July 12, 1997, with Donald Runnicles conducting; on August 8, 1997, Christoph Eschenbach conducted the ballet music; and on August 3, 2002, Eschenbach again led the ballet music as well as “Pietà, rispetto, amore” with baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

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Pavarotti and Solti in Solti’s London studio

Also during the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s centennial season in 1990-91, Sir Georg Solti programmed Verdi’s Otello, with a stellar cast including Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Leo Nucci, and Luciano Pavorotti, making his debut in the title role. Concert performances of the opera were given at Orchestra Hall on April 8 and 12, and at Carnegie Hall  on April 16 and 19, 1991.

Otello Luciano Pavarotti, tenor
Desdemona Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano
Iago Leo Nucci, baritone
Emilia Elzbieta Ardam, mezzo-soprano
Cassio Anthony Rolfe Johnson, tenor
Roderigo John Keyes, tenor
Montano Alan Opie, baritone
Lodovico Dimitri Kavrakos, bass
A Herald Richard Cohn, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus; Margaret Hillis, director
Terry Edwards, guest chorus master
Chicago Children’s Choir, Leslie Britton, director (Chicago)
Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus, Elena Doria, director (New York)

Reviews of the performances were, shall we say, mixed.

The work was recorded live during the Orchestra Hall and Carnegie Hall performances for London Records. Michael Haas was the producer, Christopher Pope was the assistant producer, James Lock and John Pellowe were the engineers, and Deborah Rogers was the tape editor.

program book for the Orchestra Hall performances

program page for the Carnegie Hall performances

Otello in Orchestra Hall on April 8, 1991

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Between September 1986 and January 1990, Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3).

The recording of the Ninth Symphony won the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21
Michael Haas, producer
Stan Goodall and Michael Mailes, engineers
Jenni Whiteside, tape editor
Recorded at Orchestra Hall
November 1989

Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36
Michael Haas, producer
Stan Goodall and Michael Mailes, engineers
Jenni Whiteside, tape editor
Recorded at Orchestra Hall
January and February 1990

Symphony No. 3 in E flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica)
Michael Haas, producer
Stan Goodall, engineer
Matthew Hutchinson, tape editor
Recorded at Orchestra Hall
May 1989

Symphony No. 4 in B flat Major, Op. 60
Michael Haas, producer
James Lock, engineer
Alison Carter, tape editor
Recorded at Orchestra Hall
September 1987

Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67
Michael Haas, producer
James Lock, engineer
Alison Carter, tape editor
Recorded at Medinah Temple
October 1986

Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 (Pastoral)
Michael Haas, producer
Stan Goodall, engineer
Deborah Rogers, tape editor
Recorded at Orchestra Hall
May and October 1988

Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92
Michael Haas, producer
Stan Goodall, engineer
Simon Bertram, tape editor
Recorded at Orchestra Hall
May 1988

Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93
Michael Haas, producer
Stan Goodall, engineer
Simon Bertram, tape editor
Recorded at Orchestra Hall
October 1988

Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Jessye Norman, soprano
Reinhild Runkel, contralto
Robert Schunk, tenor
Hans Sotin, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Michael Haas, producer
John Pellowe, engineer
Neil Hutchinson, tape editor
Recorded at Medinah Temple
September and October 1986

Margaret Hillis, Solti, and soloists accept applause following the September 24, 1986, opening night performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at Orchestra Hall. The work was recorded at Medinah Temple with the same forces the following week.

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Theodore Thomas

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