The Music of Macbeth

October 4, 6, 10, 12, 2012, at 8 pm
Matinée October 14 at 2:30 pm

POV's Best of Youtube

Discover the gripping drama and haunting music of Macbeth in these selections from Youtube.

Act 1. Scena Nel di della vittoria. Cavatina Vieni t'affretta! Cabaletta Or tutti sorgete

Lady Macbeth reads a letter from her husband, telling of his encounter with a group of witches who have made three prophecies: that Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, will become Thane of Cawdor; that he will be crowned King of Scotland; and that his fellow general, Banquo, will be the father of kings.

The first prophecy has come true: the Thane of Cawdor has been executed for treason, and King Duncan has given the title to Macbeth. Lady Macbeth reflects on the intoxicating promise of the second prophecy, but worries that Macbeth may not be ruthless enough to seize the throne.

Ambizioso spirto Tu sei Macbetto
You are an ambitious soul, Macbeth. You long for greatness,
but will you be wicked enough?
The road to power is filled with crimes...

Determined to incite Macbeth into fulfilling the witches' prophecy, she launches into her great double aria, beginning with the cavatina Vieni t'affretta!

Come! Hurry! I wish to light a fire in your cold heart!
I shall give you the courage to carry out this bold undertaking.
The prophetesses promise you the throne of Scotland.
Why delay? Accept the gift, mount the throne and reign.

When a servant tells her that both Macbeth and King Duncan are expected that very night, she exults in the opportunity to kill the king.

Or tutti sorgete
Arise, all you agents of hell that rouse mortals to bloody acts!
Night, wrap us In motionless darkness.
Do not let the knife see The breast which it strikes.

Bulgarian soprano Ghena Dimitrova brings astounding power to this gripping scene. One commentator said of her performance Gawd - she had the voice of Godzilla! Absolutely perfect for Lady Macbeth.. This recalls Verdi's own expressed preference: I want Lady Macbeth to be ugly and evil ... the Lady's voice to be raw, choked, and hollow ... diabolical. This does not mean the composer rejected sumptuous musical beauty (and there is plenty in Macbeth). But for Verdi, psychological and dramatic truth trumped the niceties of an elegant bel canto line.



Act 1: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth – the murder of King Duncan

Macbeth returns home, greeting his lady (Oh donna mia!). In just a few lines of intense recitative, they agree that the murder must be carried out that night. Sprightly martial music announces the arrival of the king, and the Macbeths go to greet him.

Later as night falls, Macbeth hallucinates that he sees a dagger – Mi si affaccia un pugnal! / Is this a dagger I see before me? With rising intensity and trepidation, he steels himself to carry out the murder.

A me precorri sul confuso cammin
You run ahead of me along the unclear path which my mind
intended to follow!
Horrid sight!The blade is streaked with blood!
... It is decided. That bell invites me! Do not hear it, Duncan.
It is a knell That summons you to heaven or to hell.

Macbeth goes into the king's chamber, while Lady Macbeth waits. He returns to tell her it is finished. The gripping duet Fatal mia donna (My fated lady) begins with an intense, panicky exchange between the couple. Macbeth is horrified at the blood on his hands and haunted by the ghastly crime he has committed.

O vista, o vista orribile! ... Nel sonno udii che oravano.
O what a horrible sight! ... I heard the courtiers praying in their sleep.
God be with us always, they said.
I wanted to say Amen but the rebellious word froze on my lips ...
Then I heard a voice within me saying:
O Macbeth, you will have only thorns for a pillow.
Glamis, you have murdered sleep for ever ...
I shall hear Duncan's holy virtues
thunder vengeance at me like angels of wrath.

Lady Macbeth tells him to return the dagger to the king's room and smear blood on the sleeping guards to incriminate them. When Macbeth cannot bring himself to do this, she takes the dagger and does it herself. Macbeth looks at his bloody hands, saying the ocean could not wash them clean. His wife returns, saying a splash of water is enough to clean her hands. The duet moves into a cabaletta Vieni altrove! ogni sospetto / Come away! We must remove all suspicion as Lady Macbeth drags her husband off, urging him to pull himself together.But he laments

Oh, if only I could wipe my crime from my mind!
O murdered King, if only I could rouse you from your deep sleep.

Piero Cappuccilli (Macbeth) and Shirley Verrett (Lady Macbeth) perform this electrifying scene in the historic 1975 production from La Scala, staged by Giorgio Strehler and conducted by Claudio Abbado.



Act 2. Perché mi sfuggi – La luce langue

Lady Macbeth asks her husband why he is brooding. They've got away with the murder of King Duncan, and the throne is his. But he recalls the witches' prophecy that Banquo would father kings. In a few short words, they agree that Banquo too must die. As Macbeth leaves, Lady Macbeth urges him not to waver in his intent.

Left alone, Lady Macbeth sings the aria La luce langue (The light is fading). It begins with a soft, ominous lyricism that belies her murderous intent. By the end she clearly revels in her bloodthirsty craving for the throne.

The light is fading, the beacon
that eternally crosses the wide sky has gone out...
A new crime! It must be so! The fatal deed must be done.
Power means nothing to the dead;
for them a requiem and eternity.
Oh, desire of the throne!
Oh, sceptre, at last you are mine!

Kostas Paskalis is Macbeth and Josephine Barstow is Lady Macbeth in this 1972 Glyndebourne production.



Act 2. Si colmi il calice / Fill the cup

At a lavish banquet, Lady M sings a brindisi or drinking song. An assassin reports to Macbeth that Banquo is dead but his son has escaped. Pomp and celebration turn into dismay, embarrassment, and horror as Macbeth hallucinates seeing the bloody ghost of Banquo, and Lady M desperately tries to salvage her party.

Zeljko Lucic is Macbeth, Maria Guleghina is Lady Macbeth, and John Relyea is Banquo in this 2008 Metropolitan Opera production.



Act 3. Macbeth's second encounter with the witches

Macbeth returns to the witches to learn more about his destiny. They call up a series of apparitions. The first tells Macbeth to beware of Macduff, the second proclaims that no man of woman born will harm him. The third promises he will be invincible until he sees Birnam Wood moving towards him. But he is still obsessed by the fear that Banquo's descendants will gain the throne.

Macbeth's belief in the prophecies will give him an excuse for vengeance and propel him into a reign of terror as he strives to wipe out every threat to his power.

Kostas Paskalis is Macbeth in this 1972 Glyndebourne production.


Maureen Woodall


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