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Ideal conductor, soloists in synch at CSO’s ‘Macbeth’

TatianSerjan sings Lady Macbeth LucSalsi sings title role as Riccardo Muti conducts Chicago Symphony Orchestrconcert performance Verdi's 'Macbeth' Saturday Sept.

Tatiana Serjan sings Lady Macbeth and Luca Salsi sings the title role as Riccardo Muti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a concert performance of Verdi's "Macbeth" on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013 in Symphony Center.| Todd Rosenberg Photography.

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When: 7 p.m. Tuesday and Friday, 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan

Tickets : $35-$180

Info: (312) 294-3000;

Updated: September 29, 2013 9:48PM

Verdi is one of opera’s most popular, and gifted, composers. In this bicentennial year of his birth the world doubtless will be hearing some memorable Verdi performances.

It’s difficult to imagine, however, any more thrilling than the concert version of “Macbeth” Saturday night at Symphony Center. Onstage was a kind of Verdi dream team.

There was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, clearly revved up at the rare chance to play a masterpiece by a composer who wrote very little music expressly for symphony orchestra. There was CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti, the leading Verdi conductor of our day, a man who knows the composer’s music to his very bones and carries it close to his heart. There were vocal soloists, all making their CSO debuts, who brought Shakespeare’s immortal characters to hair-raising life. And there was the Chicago Symphony Chorus, which alternated easily between warriors and witches and thoughtful commentators on the disasters unfurling before their eyes.

The Macbeth of Italian baritone Luca Salsi and the Lady Macbeth of Russian coloratura soprano Tatiana Serjan were simply spellbinding. This is a signature role for Serjan, and it’s easy to understand why opera houses throughout the world have engaged her to sing it. Her voice is an ideal Verdi instrument — big but focused, with a silvery ping and glints of unashamedly raw steel around its edges.

From her first aria, thrilled by news of Macbeth’s victory in battle, Serjan’s lady was a woman possessed. Combining hellish fire and deadly ice, she soared fearlessly through Verdi’s punishing coloratura flights but also brought subtle color to his long, singing lines. Greeting her victorious husband as Cawdor, his new title, her slow, descending two-note phrase fell like a caress on the cheek, loving yet chillingly calculated.

At first, Salsi’s Macbeth seemed pale in comparison. But that was simply an accident of plot; in their first scenes Macbeth vacillates, ambitious but also reluctant to murder his rivals. As the opera unfolded, however, Salsi’s rich, flexible baritone took on searing intensity. Describing the ghostly images that terrified him, his voice dropped to a mesmerizing whisper. In duets with Lady Macbeth, however, emboldened by her strength, his singing rang with imperial confidence.

Russian bass Dmitry Belosselskiy was a reserved but noble Banquo, bringing a nicely grained vocal line to his apprehension-filled aria. Francesco Meli’s strong, expressive tenor made him a touching Macduff.

“Macbeth” is full of orchestral color, and Muti and the CSO explored every last detail. Nobody does sternum-rattling visions of hell’s fury better than Verdi, and the orchestra and chorus set our bones shuddering periodically throughout the evening. But the opera’s quiet moments were equally profound. Whenever the CSO’s strings dropped to a barely audible rustle, the Symphony Center audience seemed to stop breathing.

They found their voices at the end of the evening, exploding into cheers and wild applause. The CSO gives three more performances of “Macbeth.” If you’re looking for some pre-Halloween chills and thrills that will also nourish the soul, get thee to Symphony Center.

Wynne Delacoma is a local freelance writer.

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