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.