By Stuart Mitchner
“Ah, Shakespeare, Shakespeare! … The great maestro of the human heart!”
—Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Verdi is so quoted in Saturday’s New York Times under the banner headline “’Hail, Shakespeare’ Resonates Across Italy,” for an article on the opera house opening nights of Macbeth, Falstaff, Othello, and Julius Caesar in Milan, Florence, Naples, and Rome.
Above the headline is a lurid panoramic backdrop from David Livermore’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Shown in the foreground, a scattered crowd of people in modern dress appear to be waiting for something to happen, like a chorus of citizens anticipating a cue, seemingly unaware of the fantastical urban inferno looming behind them. It’s as if the set designer is trying to visually evoke Harold Bloom’s vision of Macbeth’s “power of contamination.” In the opening chapter of his book Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, Bloom refers to Shakespeare’s “pervasive presence in the most unlikely contexts: here, there, and everywhere at once. He is a system of northern lights, an aurora borealis visible where most of us will never go. Libraries and playhouses (and cinemas) cannot contain him; he has become a spirit or ‘spell of light,’ almost too vast to comprehend.”
Shakespeare shows up again in Sunday’s Arts and Leisure section in the form of an immense, darkly foreboding two-page ad for The Tragedy of Macbeth, “written for the screen and directed by Joel Coen.” Looking to keep things cheerful with Christmas only three days away, I went right to the knocking at the gate in Act Two and the Porter’s moment in the spotlight, which Bloom notes as “the first and only comedy allowed in this drama.” Here Shakespeare introduces “a healing touch of nature where Macbeth has intimidated us with the preternatural, and with the Macbeths’ mutual phantasmagoria of murder and power.” more