Macbeth (Giuseppe Verdi)
  • Giuseppe Verdi. Opera in four acts. 1847.
  • Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, after the play by Shakespeare.
  • First performance at the Teatro della Pergola, Florence, on 14th March 1847.
Macbeth baritone
Banco (Banquo), his fellow-general bass
Duncano (Duncan), King of Scotland silent role
Lady Macbeth, Macbeth’s wife soprano
Lady-in-waiting to Lady Macbeth mezzo-soprano
Macduff, lord of Fife tenor
Malcolm, Duncan’s son tenor
Fleanzio (Fleance), Banquo’s son silent role
Servant bass
Doctor bass
Murderer bass
Ghost of Banco (Banquo) silent role
Herald bass

Shakespeare’s three witches become a chorus of witches who greet Macbeth and Banquo with their prophecies. Lady Macbeth reads the letter from her husband that announces the coming of Duncan, who is murdered as he sleeps. The first act ends with Macduff’s announcement of the murder. In the second act Macbeth, jealous of the future prophesied for Banquo’s posterity, goes on to procure the murder of Banquo, whose ghost appears to haunt him. The third act brings the witches back, with an additional ballet for the French version of the opera given in Paris in 1865. The witches summon up apparitions that tell Macbeth what lies in store for him. The fourth act opens on the English border, where Malcolm leads a force against Macbeth. This is followed by the sleepwalking scene for Lady Macbeth, herself a prey, like her husband, to conscience. Malcolm’s soldiers, camouflaged under branches, bring Birnam Wood to Dunsinane, as the witches had foretold. A cry of women marks the death of Lady Macbeth and her husband is killed in single combat with Macduff.

Verdi made a number of changes in Macbeth, the first of his Shakespearian operas, for the French version of 1865, in particular the necessary addition of a ballet at the start of the third act. In general the action follows Shakespeare, with the obvious necessary abridgements and omissions. The prelude makes use of material from the opera, in particular that associated with the witches in the third act and the famous sleepwalking scene of the fourth. Lady Macbeth’s letter scene, Nel dì della vittoria (In the day of success), presents her as an immediately powerful figure. The exiled Scots under Malcolm echo patriotic sentiment in Italy in their Patria oppressa (Our country oppressed), while Macduff laments the reported murder of his wife and children in Ah, la paterna mano (Ah, a father’s hand). Lady Macbeth appears in one of the great sleepwalking scenes of Italian opera, Una macchia (A spot), observed by her lady-in-waiting and the doctor. In the last scene, Macbeth, nearing his end, regrets his lack of those accompaniments of age, Pietà, rispetto, amore (Kindness, respect, love). The French version of the work ends with a hymn of victory, instead of Macbeth’s final despair and death.