Macbeth and Lady Macbeth plot to ensure their place on the throne. They kill anyone in their way to achieve their goals. Ultimately, it becomes their undoing.
A plot of ruthless politics, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth plot to ensure their place on the throne. Macbeth and Banquo, the leaders of the Scottish army, encounter a group of witches who prophecize that Macbeth will be King, and that Banquo will be the father of kings. Macbeth is perturbed by the prophecy and completely absorbed by his evil thoughts and plots of murder, while his wife is ruthless and stops at nothing to achieve their goals.
After they kill the King, Macbeth and his wife are overcome by fear, paranoia, and rage, but they continue to kill everyone in their way to maintain their place on the throne. Ultimately, it becomes their undoing.
Opera in 4 acts
Sung in Italian
About 2 hours 35 min + intervals
11th century Scotland
Groups of witches gather in a wood beside a battlefield, exchanging stories of the "evils" they have done. The victorious generals Macbeth and Banco enter. The witches hail Macbeth as Thane of Glamis (a title he already holds by inheritance), Thane of Cawdor, and king "hereafter." Banco is greeted as "lesser than Macbeth, but greater", never a king himself, but the progenitor of a line of future kings. The witches vanish, and messengers from the king appear naming Macbeth Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth protests that the holder of that title is still alive, but the messengers reply that the former Thane has been executed as a traitor. Banco, mistrusting the witches, is horrified to find that they have spoken the truth. In a duet, Macbeth and Banco muse that the first of the witches' prophecies has been fulfilled. Macbeth ponders how close he is to the throne, and whether fate will crown him without his taking action, yet dreams of blood and treachery: while Banco ponders on whether the minions of Hell will sometimes reveal an honest truth in order to lead one to future damnation.
Lady Macbeth reads a letter from her husband telling of the encounter with the witches. She is determined to propel Macbeth to the throne - by fair means or foul.
[Revised version, 1865: Vieni! t'affretta!/ "Come! Hurry!"].
Lady Macbeth is advised that King Duncan will stay in the castle that night; she is determined to see him killed (Or tutti, sorgete / "Arise now, all you ministers of hell"). When Macbeth returns she urges him to take the opportunity to kill the King. The King and the nobles arrive and Macbeth is emboldened to carry out the murder (Mi si affaccia un pugnal? / "Is this a dagger which I see before me?"), but afterwards is filled with horror. Disgusted at his cowardice, Lady Macbeth completes the crime, incriminating the sleeping guards by smearing them with Duncan's blood and planting on them Macbeth's dagger. Macduff arrives for an appointment with the King, while Banco stands guard, only for Macduff instead to discover the murder. He rouses the castle while Banco also bears witness to the fact of Duncan's murder. The chorus calls on God to avenge the killing (Schiudi, inferno, . . / "Open wide thy gaping maw, O Hell").
A room in the castle
Macbeth is now king: Duncan's son Malcolm has fled the country, suspicion having conveniently fallen on him for his father's murder: but Macbeth is still disturbed by the prophecy that Banco, not he, will found a great royal line. To prevent this he tells his wife that he will have both Banco and his son murdered as they come to a banquet.
[1865 revised version: In her aria, La luce langue / "The light fades", Lady Macbeth exults in the powers of darkness]
Outside the castle
A gang of murderers lie in wait. Banco, sensing danger shares his misgivings with his son. (Come dal ciel precipita / "O, how the darkness falls from heaven"). The murderers attack and stab him to death, but his son escapes.
A dining hall in the castle
Macbeth receives the guests and Lady Macbeth sings a brindisi (Si colmi il calice / "Fill up the cup"). The assassination is reported to Macbeth, but when he returns to the table the ghost of Banco is sitting in his place. Macbeth raves at the ghost and the horrified guests believe he has gone mad. Lady Macbeth manages to calm the situation once - and even mocks it by calling for a toast to the absent Banco (whose death is not yet public knowledge), only for the ghost to appear a second time and terrify Macbeth into insanity again. Macduff resolves to leave the country, saying it is ruled by a cursed hand and only the wicked may remain: the other guests are terrified by Macbeth's talk of ghosts, phantoms and witches. The banquet ends abruptly with their hurried, frightened departure.
The witches' cave
The witches gather around a cauldron in a dark cave. Macbeth enters and they conjure up three apparitions for him. The first advises him to beware of Macduff. The second tells him that he cannot be harmed by a man 'born of woman'. The third that he cannot be conquered till Birnam Wood marches against him. (Macbeth: O lieto augurio / "O, happy augury! No wood has ever moved by magic power")
Macbeth is then shown the ghost of Banco and his descendants, eight future Kings of Scotland, verifying the original prophecy. (Macbeth: Fuggi regal fantasima / "Begone, royal phantom that reminds me of Banco"). He collapses, but regains consciousness in the castle.
[Original 1847 version: The act ends with Macbeth recovering and resolving to assert his authority: Vada in fiamme, e in polve cada / "Macduff's lofty stronghold shall / Be set fire....".]
A herald announces the arrival of the Queen (Duet: Vi trovo alfin! / "I've found you at last"). Macbeth tells his wife about his encounter with the witches and they resolve to track down and kill Banco's son, as well as Macduff and his family (whom they do not yet know has already fled the country). (Duet: Ora di morte e di vendetta / "Hour of death and of vengeance").
Near the border between England and Scotland
Scottish refugees stand near the English border (Chorus: Patria oppressa / "Down-trodden country"):
[Original 1847 version: While each version uses the same libretto, the music of this chorus is different. It begins with a less ominous, much shorter orchestral introduction and is sung straight through by the entire chorus.]
[1865 revised version: the music is divided into sections for the male and female members, then it unites them towards the end. The revised version is 2 minutes longer than the original.]
In the distance lies Birnam Wood. Macduff is determined to avenge the deaths of his wife and children at the hands of the tyrant (Ah, la paterna mano / "Ah, the paternal hand"). He is joined by Malcolm, the son of King Duncan, and the English army. Malcolm orders each soldier to cut a branch from a tree in Birnam Wood and carry it as they attack Macbeth's army. They are determined to liberate Scotland from tyranny (Chorus: La patria tradita / "Our country betrayed").
A doctor and a servant observe the Queen as she walks in her sleep, wringing her hands and attempting to clean them of blood (Una macchia è qui tuttora! / "Yet here's a spot"). She raves about the deaths of both Duncan and Banco, and even about the deaths of Macduff's family, and that all the perfumes of Arabia would not clean the blood off her hands: all are things that the horrified witnesses would never dare to repeat to any living man.
Macbeth has learned that an army of Scottish rebels backed by England is advancing against him, but is reassured by remembering the words of the apparitions, that no man born of woman can harm him. However, in an aria (Pietà, rispetto, amore / "Compassion, honour, love") he contemplates the fact that he is already hated and feared: there will be no compassion, honour and love for him in his old age even if he wins this battle, nor kind words on a royal tomb, only curses and hatred. He receives the news of the Queen's death with indifference. Rallying his troops he learns that Birnam Wood has indeed come to his castle. Battle is joined.
[Original 1847 version's ending: Macduff pursues and fights Macbeth who falls. He tells Macbeth that he was not "born of woman" but "ripped" from his mother's womb. Fighting continues. Mortally wounded, Macbeth, in a final aria - Mal per me che m'affidai / "Trusting in the prophecies of Hell" - proclaims that trusting in these prophecies has caused his downfall. He dies on stage, while Macduff's men proclaim Malcolm to be the new King.]
Macduff pursues and fights Macbeth who falls wounded. He tells Macbeth that he was not "born of woman" but "untimely ripped" from his mother's womb. Macbeth responds in anguish (Cielo! / "Heaven") and the two continue fighting, then disappear from view. Macduff returns indicating to his men that he has killed Macbeth. He then turns to Malcolm, hailing him as King. The scene ends with a hymn to victory sung by bards, soldiers, and Scottish women (Salve, o re!/ "Hail, oh King!). Malcolm as King, and Macduff as hero, together swear to restore the realm to greatness.
Macbeth – Baritone (dramatic)
A general in the army of King Duncan of Scotland
Lady Macbeth – Soprano/Mezzo-soprano (dramatic coloratura)
The wife of Macbeth
Banco – Bass (lyric)
A general in the army of King Duncan of Scotland
Macduff – Tenor (lyric)
A Scottish nobleman
Lady-in-waiting – Mezzo-soprano
Malcolm – Tenor
Doctor – Bass
Servant to Macbeth – Bass
Herald - bass
Assassin - Bass
Place of birth: Le Roncole, Italy
Place of death: Milan, Italy
Verdi is one of our most beloved opera composers with hits like Rigoletto, Aida and Falstaff. He was a very productive composer, writing nearly 30 operas spanning from 1839 to 1893.
In his twenties tragic events unfolded when Verdi lost his two children in infancy and shortly thereafter his first wife. He remarried years later to the renowned soprano Giuseppina Strepponi who became his life companion.
Verdi is known for modernising Italian opera by writing long passages of through-composed music and unifying acts for a more continuous dramatic development. This is more noticeable in his later works. He came to dominate the opera scene after an era of bel canto composers such as Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini.
“To copy the truth can be a good thing, but to invent the truth is better, much better. ”
Verdi was a food lover, adored Shakespeare and the only piece of chamber music he wrote was a string quartet.
Verdi and Wagner were born in the same year. They were known to be rivals even though they never met.
Most prominent operas
I masnadieri 1847
Luisa Miller 1849
Il trovatore 1853
La traviata 1853
I vespri Siciliani 1855
Simon Boccanegra 1857
Un ballo in maschera 1859
La forza del destino 1862
Don Carlo 1867
Francesco Maria Piave wrote the libretto for Macbeth based on Shakespeare's masterpiece. Additions to the libretto were later made by Andrea Maffei.
Francesco Maria Piave was an Italian librettist, journalist, translator, poet and stage manager at Teatro La Fenice in Venice. He wrote 10 librettos for Verdi of which Rigoletto and La traviata are the most well known. Both operas have a very clear musical form. With Piave, Verdi was allowed to decide how the story would be told in terms of the musical structure and arrangement of pieces.
Piave also wrote librettos for other popular composers of his day. He was even commissioned to write the libretto for Aida but suffered a stroke and could not speak. When Piave died, Verdi helped to support his family and he also paid for his funeral.
Andrea Maffei was an Italian librettist, poet and translator. He was also one of Verdi's close friends. Maffei is most known for writing the libretto for I masnadieri.
2, 2d1, 2d1, 2 - 4, 2, 3, 1
timp, perc, harp, strings
Verdi's tenth opera Macbeth first premiered at Teatro della pergola in Florence in 1847. It was later revised in a French version that premiered in 1865 in Paris.
Today Macbeth is one of the top 30 most perfomed operas worldwide.
Aria - Nel di della vittoria... Vieni t'affretta (Lady Macbeth)
Aria – La luce langue (Lady Macbeth)
Aria – Si colmi il calice (Lady Macbeth)
Aria - Ah! La paterna mano (Macduff)
Aria – Perfidi! All'Anglo contro me v'unite... Pietà, rispetto, amore (Macbeth)