The Fifth International Verdi Congress wound up four days of meetings, discussions, and opera here yesterday, concluding with a resounding answer to the question that had been asked often in recent weeks, "Why Danville, Ky.?"
Here was a congress of top scholars in Verdi research, whose previous meetings had been held in Venice, Verona, Milan and Chicago. And now they were getting together in the heart of the blue grass country the same week as the annual fall horse sales that draw hundreds of buyers and sellers from this country and abroad.
Here were noted Italian specialists in Verdi coming to one of Kentucky's dry counties, musicologists from England and France, Holland, Germany, Canada and this country, spending four days in Daniel Boone territory where next week tobacco growers will market the largest crop in the state since 1963.
They did not come for the bourbon that Kentucky makes more of than any place else in the world. They were not even in Danville because Giuseppe Verdi himself grew up in a small town in Italy to which he later returned to do his own farming.
The Verdi Congress met there because on the Danville campus of Centre College there is a regional arts center, opened in 1973, that holds a superb, 1,500-seat opera and concert hall with facilities that were ideal for a gathering of these 70 scholars. They came also because the Kentucky Opera Association was eager to stage a performance of the original 1847 version of Verdi's "Macbeth," a work that Verdi students love to debate and to treasure.
Most of all, the Verdi Congress met in Danville because of two people: Floyd Herzog, the managing director of the arts center, and Mary Jane Phillips Matz, a musicologist who is presently studying in Verdi's home town of Busseto. Matz, whose parents lived in Danville, and Herzog, who came to Centre College to take charge of the new center, are longtime friends and correspondents about various aspects of Verdiana.
At a crucial moment several years ago, Herzog persuaded Matz, who is on the board of the American Institute for Verdi Studies, that Danville's arts center, which opened with a performance of Verdi's "Othello," was the ideal spot for the 1977 meetings.
And so wine was produced for the Italian visitors and spiritous liquors for those who hankered after them in in Boyle County, and the spirit of Verdi was invoked and celebrated in a lively, Kentucky fashion.
From Bologna, Giuseppe Vecchi talked about the libretto of "Macbeth." Frits Noske of Holland placed the opera in two lights - romanticism and realism; Martin Chusid of New York University emphasized its supernatural elements while Jonas Barish from Nerkeley used it as a starting point for a paper on "Hallucination, Sleepwalking, and Madness."
Maryln Somville of the Centre College faculty gave one of the top papers of the congress on =Vocal Gesture in Macbeth," while Leonardo Pinzauti from Florence, Italy - the city in which the opera was first heard - discussed the premiere and the critical response that followed.
One of the most significant discussions of the congress followed a paper by Philip Gossett from the University of Chicago, the institution which last year joined with Verdi's publishers, the famous Milan house of Casa Ricordi, to begin publication of the first critical edition of Verdi scores ever printed.
One of the pivotal figures at the congress was Andrew Porter, whose new English translation of "Macbeth" was used in Friday night's performance. Porter, who is a music critic for The New Yorker magazine and highly regarded for his translations of Wagner's Ring Cycle and several other operas by Verdi, talked about the unusual difficulties of translating back into English an opera like "Macbeth," whose Shakespearean original is one of the most familiar plays in the language.
Porter's strongest point in favor of singing opera in English was based on Verdi's own frequent insistence that his operas be heard in the languages of the countries where they were performed. "Even when, as last night," Porter said on Saturday, "perhaps only 50 per cent of what was sung could be understood. I still think opera in this country should be in English."
Newlin Hall, the name given to the new arts center in Danville, was designed by architect Wesley Peyers of Taliesin Associated Architects in Scottsdale, Ariz. Its superb acoustics are the work of Vern Knudsen of Los Angeles.The result is one of the handsomest smaller auditoriums in the country, one that fully justifies Joan Sutherland's comment: "How fascinating to find in Danville such a splendid concert hall with such wonderful acoustics!"
On Friday night the hall, on both sides of the footlights, demonstrated its ideal design, equipment and facilities for presenting a demanding and complex opera. The Kentucky Opera Association, whose musical director, Moriz Bomhard, was in charge of the performance is now in its 26th season.
The production used a single-unit set, with the usual advantages and drawbacks. It worked well for the larger scened of witches, assassins, and battles. But the stage direction failed to make the best use of it in the crucial scene of the royal apparitions, or in the vital banquet scene. There were handsome costumes from Brooks-Van Horn, but lighting, probably through a shortness of rehearsal time, became a kind of disaster.
Bomhard kept the performance within the bounds of good routine. Although he has conducted opera in the new theater on several occasions, he often let the orchestra cover the singers, a defect that could easily be remedied in so fine a hall.
The cast of American singers was headed by Alexandra Hunt and Adib Fazah in the principal roles of Lady Macbeth and her husband; Ferenz Gaal as an admirable, resonant Banquo and Vahan Khanzadian a welcome, sturdy Macduff once his only big scene was reached in the final act.
Fazah grasped much of the big baritone roles's opportunities, though his acting was minimal and he does not possess the largest sounds needed for certain climaxes. Hunt is troubled by vocal problems that made her presence a severe trial.
The fascination of the performance, however, was divided between the actual quality of the music and staging and the differences in Verdi's first thoughts on the subject and those, now more familiar, of his revised version, made 18 years after the Florence premiere.
The most regrettable item missing in the original version is the superb aria, "La luce langue," which Verdi added for Lady Macbeth in the later opera. The first ending is, however, more effective than the second, with a quick curtain after the death of Macbeth and crowning of Malcolm, excising the final patriotic chorus that Verdi later tacked on.
The deliberations of the Congress were assisted by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, whose new chairman, Joseph Duffey, was one of six people to be given honorary doctorates by Centre College at a convocation on Thursday.
The opera performances were assisted by a similar grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The whole affair closed a historic circle in Kentucky where, early in the state's history, the first Shakespearean play to be given was, of course, "Macbeth."