Macbeth

Verdi adapted one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies into an equally tragic opera. A cautionary tale about what can happen when someone with political ambitions pursues power for its own sake, the story feels both current and timeless.

Macbeth, a noble Scottish general, gets a prophecy from three witches that he will one day become King of Scotland. Goaded on by his power-hungry wife, he murders the king and assumes the throne. Crazed with guilt and paranoia, Macbeth is forced to commit even more murders to stay one step ahead of suspicion. Lady Macbeth, consumed by her own shame, is slowly driven mad.

Macbeth reminds us: Be careful what you wish for. Not all struggles are worth the price.

Synopsis

ACT I

Returning from a military victory, Macbeth and Banquo are greeted by witches who hail Macbeth not only by his rightful title but also as future king. They hail Banquo as the father of kings.

Macbeth broods over the prophecy, but decides not to lift his hand against the king. Banquo reflects that the prophecies could be a trap leading to destruction.

Lady Macbeth reads a letter from Macbeth relating these events. She greets with delight the news that King Duncan intends to spend the night at their castle. When Macbeth arrives, she readily convinces him to murder the king.

Late at night, with the king and his entourage asleep, Macbeth has a hallucination of a dagger in the air before murdering the king and his attendants. Filled with terror and guilt, Lady Macbeth derides him and tells him to wash his hands and assume an appearance of innocence.

Knocks at the gate herald the arrival of Macduff and Banquo. Macduff goes to wake the king but must announce his murder instead. The news provokes cries for revenge from everyone, including Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

ACT II

Macbeth confesses to his wife that he is brooding over the witches’ prophecy that Banquo’s descendants will be king. He resolves to have him killed. Lady Macbeth relishes the thought that their claim to the throne will soon be unchallenged, even if the cost is more blood. Banquo’s forebodings are fulfilled when assassins kill him. But his son, Fleance, escapes.

A banquet is in progress, and Lady Macbeth invites the guests to drink. One of the assassins reports to Macbeth that Banquo has been killed, but Fleance has escaped. Macbeth muses to his guests that Banquo is absent. He is about to take Banquo’s seat when he is confronted by Banquo’s ghost, which only he can see. The guests are shocked by the sight of their king’s madness. Macduff suspects Macbeth’s hand in Banquo’s murder and decides to flee Scotland.

ACT III

The witches are preparing to summon Hecate when Macbeth appears, demanding to know his fate. They summon spirits that tell him first to beware of Macduff and next that he cannot be killed by anyone born of woman. Lastly, they tell him he cannot be killed until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane.

When he asks if Banquo’s children will be kings, he is shown a vision of eight kings with Banquo indicating that they are his issue. Macbeth faints, and the witches vanish. Lady Macbeth enters and convinces him to kill Fleance. He agrees and tells her he will also have Macduff and his family put to death. They swear bloodshed on anyone who opposes them.

ACT IV

The refugees of Macbeth’s tyranny lament the state of their homeland. Macduff mourns the death of his family. Prince Malcolm orders the soldiers to take branches from Birnam Wood as camouflage and exhorts them to follow him to free Scotland. Lady Macbeth walks in her sleep, reliving the murders for which she is guilty, and trying to wash the blood from her hands.
Faced with a stream of desertions, Macbeth takes comfort from the witches’ latest prophecies. He is weary of life. News of his wife’s death confirms his feelings about the futility of existence. When soldiers announce that Birnam Wood is moving towards his castle, he realizes that the witches have deceived him, but is determined to die fighting.

The scene changes to a plain where the battle rages. On the battlefield, Macbeth confronts Macduff. When Macbeth boasts that none born of woman can kill him, Macduff replies he was born unnaturally, by Caesarean section. He kills the tyrant and hails Prince Malcolm as king as the people join in thanksgiving.

About the Composer

GIUSEPPE VERDI (1813–1901)

The Italian composer Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was born in La Roncole in October 1813. When he was still a child, Verdi’s parents moved to Busseto, where the future composer’s education was enhanced by visits to the large library at the local Jesuit school.

Displaying considerable talent from a young age, he became assistant organist at the small local church when he was just 10. At 13, he was an assistant conductor of the Busseto Orchestra and an organist at the town church.  In 1836, Verdi married Margherita Barezzi, the daughter of his benefactor, Antonio Barezzi.

Verdi went to Milan when he was 20 to continue his studies. He took private lessons in counterpoint while attending the opera, as well as concerts of, specifically, German music.

His first successful opera, Oberto, opened at La Scala in 1839. However, his next opera, the comedy, Un Giorno di Regno (King for a Day), was a failure. To add tragedy to insult, Verdi lost his wife and two young children to illness within the same year, and the despondent composer resolved to give up music altogether. The manager of La Scala persuaded him to persevere and write his next opera, Nabucco, which premiered in 1842 to great acclaim, securing Verdi’s reputation as a major figure in the music world.

Verdi began working on Macbeth in 1846. The main reason he chose the Shakespeare tragedy was the availability of baritone Felice Varesi for the title role.

Writing to his librettist Francesco Maria Piave, Verdi made it clear how important Macbeth was to him: “… This tragedy is one of the greatest creations of man … If we can’t make something great out of it, let us at least try to do something out of the ordinary.”  Their version follows the play closely, but instead of three witches, as in the play, there is a large chorus of witches.

As early as 1852, Verdi was asked to revise Macbeth in Paris. Again in 1864, Verdi was asked to provide additional music – a ballet and a final chorus – for a production planned at the Théâtre-Lyrique Impérial du Châtelet in Paris. The new version was first performed in April 1865 in a French translation. The opera was presented at La Scala in the autumn of 1865.

Opera Carolina’s production uses sections from each version, principally from the Paris revision, including Lady Macbeth’s dynamic aria La luce langue and the apparition scene. Macbeth’s final aria of remorse, Mal per me, comes just before the triumphal final chorus.

 
Upon Verdi’s death in 1901, there were scenes of national mourning for the man who was a great musician, philanthropist and Italian patriot. At the funeral, the 28,000 people who lined the streets of Milan broke out softly and spontaneously into Va pensiero, the great chorus of the Hebrew slaves from Nabucco – a song which had become Italy’s unofficial national anthem.

Verdi is buried alongside his second wife, his first wife and their young children at Casa di Riposo in Milan, a retirement home for musicians which Verdi founded and endowed personally.

Production

James Meena

CONDUCTOR

Ivan Stefanutti

DIRECTOR & Designer

 


Atelier Nicolao

Costumes

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