Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave and Andrea Maffei
October 4, 6, 10, 12, 2012, at 8 pm. Matinée October 14 at 2:30 pm
In Italian with English surtitles
Above: Scenes from Pacific Opera Victoria's production of Macbeth, with Gregory Dahl, Lyne Fortin, Alain Coulombe, Robert Clark, Jon-Paul Décosse, and Rebecca Hass. Timothy Vernon conducts the Victoria Symphony. Giuseppe Pietraroia directs the POV Chorus. With Director Morris Panych, Set Designer Ken MacDonald, and Costume designer Dana Osborne.
Above: Adam Sawatsky of CTV Vancouver Island helps Lyne Fortin and Gregory Dahl explore the sadistic side of their personalities (and the fun of Macbeth). The interview begins approximately one minute into the video.
Above: Conductor Timothy Vernon and Director Morris Panych chat about Pacific Opera Victoria's October 2012 production of Verdi's Macbeth.
You are an ambitious soul, Macbeth. You long for greatness, but will you be wicked enough?
Macbeth is a magnificent distillation of Shakespeare's epic drama of tyranny and dark magic. Spurred on by witches' prophecies and driven by ruthless ambition, Macbeth and his wife – the archetypal power couple – kill and kill again in order to gain and keep the throne of Scotland. But as conscience prowls around the edges of sanity and impossible omens come true, their hold on power unravels.
Every moment of this opera balances on the knife edge between reality and hallucination, earth and hell. From the first foreboding notes of the overture, through spine-tingling arias, macabre choruses of witches and murderers, and the Scottish people's outpouring of grief, Verdi's music pulls us with headlong momentum into the heart of evil. Macbeth is an opera of chilling beauty.
Macbeth and Banquo encounter a coven of witches who prophesy that Macbeth 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. Almost immediately, the first prophecy comes true. Macbeth speculates on the second prophecy, but tells himself he will do nothing to snatch the crown.
Lady Macbeth reads a letter from her husband, telling of these strange happenings. She fears that although Macbeth is ambitious, he may not be wicked enough to seize the throne. When she learns that King Duncan is expected for a visit, she sees a deadly opportunity. Macbeth returns, and in just a few intense words, the couple agree to kill the king that night. Sprightly martial music announces the arrival of the king, and the Macbeths go to greet him.
As night falls, Macbeth hallucinates that he sees a dagger. With rising trepidation, he steels himself to carry out the murder. He returns to tell his wife that the deed is done. In an intense, panicky exchange, Macbeth voices his horror at the crime he has committed, while his lady tells him to return the dagger to the king's room and incriminate the sleeping guards by smearing them with blood. When he cannot bring himself to do this, she takes the dagger herself. As Macbeth looks in revulsion at his bloody hands, his wife declares that a mere splash of water will clean her hands. She drags her husband off, urging him to pull himself together.
The next morning, Macduff goes to wake the king and discovers the murder. All, including the Macbeths, express horror at the crime.
Macbeth and his lady have got away with the murder. Duncan's son Malcolm has been blamed for the crime and has fled to England. But although the throne is his, Macbeth broods over the witches' prophecy that Banquo will father kings. The couple agree that Banquo and his young son must die. As Macbeth leaves to make the arrangements, Lady Macbeth urges him not to waver. Left alone, she reflects that the deed must be done and revels in her bloodthirsty craving for the throne.
Night falls, and outside the castle, a gang of assassins attack Banquo and his son Fleance. Inside, the Macbeths host a lavish banquet. As Lady Macbeth toasts her guests, an assassin arrives and reports to Macbeth that Banquo is dead but Fleance has escaped. Pomp and celebration turn into dismay, embarrassment, and horror as Macbeth hallucinates seeing the bloody ghost of Banquo, and Lady Macbeth desperately tries to salvage her party.
Macbeth returns to the witches to learn his destiny. They conjure a series of apparitions. The first tells Macbeth to beware of Macduff. The second proclaims that no man born of woman will harm him. The third promises Macbeth will be invincible until he sees Birnam Wood come marching toward him. Finally he is shown a vision of a line of kings – the future rulers of Scotland, Banquo's descendants.
Macbeth and his lady vow the destruction of all their enemies, beginning with Macduff's wife and children. They instigate a reign of terror as they strive to wipe out every threat to their power.
Scotland is in ruins. On the English border refugees lament. Macduff, grieving for his murdered wife and children, is joined by Malcolm and the English army. Malcolm orders the soldiers to use branches from the trees in Birnam Wood as camouflage for their attack on Macbeth.
Meanwhile, Macbeth's wife has begun walking in her sleep, reliving the murders, trying obsessively to clean her hands of blood.
Although Macbeth still believes he is invincible, he senses that his legacy will be curses rather than compassion, honour, or love. When he is told his wife is dead, he can only reflect on the utter futility of life.
Finally, as Birnam Wood appears to march toward his castle, and the English army arrives, Macbeth meets Macduff, who discloses that he was not born naturally but ripped from his mother's womb. He kills Macbeth and proclaims Malcolm king of Scotland.
Macbeth: POV's Production
Design images, commentary and photos from Director Morris Panych and Set Designer Ken MacDonald
Macbeth: Verdi's Opera
Libretto of the Opera in Italian with English translation
Vocal Score of the Opera (1865 revised version)
The Witches and the Witch: Verdi's Macbeth (PDF). A superbly readable exploration of the witches and the Lady. Any essay that starts by saying, Part of the power of Shakespeare's tragedies lies in their goofiness, demands that you read on.
Abstract: The witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth equivocate between the demons of random malevolence and ordinary (if exceptionally nasty) old women; and both King James I, whose book on witchcraft may have influenced Shakespeare, and A. W. Schlegel, whose essay on Macbeth certainly influenced Verdi, also stress this ambiguity. In his treatment of Lady Macbeth, Verdi uses certain musical patterns associated with the witches; and like the witches, who sound sometimes tame and frivolous, sometimes like incarnations of supernatural evil, Lady Macbeth hovers insecurely between roles: she is a hybrid of ambitious wife and agent of hell.
By Daniel Albright. Cambridge Opera Journal, 2005.
Introduction to the Opera from Wikipedia
Macbeth Educator Guide from the Metropolitan Opera. Intended to prepare students for the broadcast of a Met production of Macbeth, this guide is also a useful introduction to the opera and its musical highlights for anyone preparing to see a live performance.
Macbeth: Shakespeare's Play
Internet Shakespeare Editions. The University of Victoria's Internet Shakespeare Editions website is the perfect starting place for a wide-ranging exploration of Macbeth and of all of Shakespeare's works. Journey through old books and view 17th century facsimiles of Macbeth, as well as the first four folios of Shakespeare's works. Explore Macbeth in the ever-expanding Performance Database; browse performance materials, such as programmes, posters, prompt books, photographs, and costume designs.Then move on to discover a world of information on Shakespeare's life and times and to explore this online library of the best digital editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems.
The Shakespeare Project: Annotated Text of Macbeth
The complete play, with excellent explanations of words and expressions
Selections from Holinshed's Chronicles used by Shakespeare in writing Macbeth
Holinshed's Chronicles, also known as Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, is a collaborative work published in several volumes and two editions (1577 and 1587). Shakespeare used the revised second edition of the Chronicles (published in 1587) as the source for most of his history plays, the plot of Macbeth, and for portions of King Lear and Cymbeline.
Macbeth may be Thane of Glamis in Shakespeare's play, but his historic counterpart had no connection to Glamis, King Malcolm II (grandfather of both the real King Duncan and the real Macbeth) died in a royal hunting lodge at Glamis in 1034 – some say of battle injuries; others believe he was murdered. Malcolm named his son Duncan as his successor, but Macbeth killed Duncan in battle in 1040 and took over the throne, ruling for 17 years.
The castle itself wasn't built until the late 14th century, and the various wings and towers and turrets were added in later years. Glamis Castle is the historic seat of the Bowes-Lyons Family; the Queen Mother was born at Glamis and gave birth to Princess Margaret there.
Rupert Goold's film adaptation of Macbeth, starring Sir Patrick Stewart
This acclaimed version of the play Macbeth was originally produced in 2007 for the Chichester Festival and later moved to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, followed by an eight-week run on Broadway. Director Rupert Goold's stage production was filmed for television at the end of 2009 with Patrick Stewart in his Tony-nominated performance as the ambitious general, and Tony-nominated Kate Fleetwood as his scheming wife. Filmed at Welbeck Abbey in the United Kingdom, the play is moved to the 1950's Cold War era, transforming Scotland into something resembling Stalinist Russia. The witches are nurses in a combat hospital.
The film was aired on the PBS Program Great Performances.
Note: Like the play, this film has violent scenes. The film is rated TV-14, V. Parents are urged to exercise care in monitoring this program due to violent content and are cautioned against letting children under 14 watch unattended.
The Voodoo Macbeth. The only known video footage of the Federal Theatre Project's 1936 New York production of Macbeth, featuring an all-African American cast directed by Orson Welles. Known as the Voodoo Macbeth, the production relocated the setting of the play from Scotland to a fictional Caribbean island based on Haiti.
The production is regarded as a landmark theatrical event for several reasons: its innovative interpretation of the play, its success in promoting African-American theatre, and its role in securing the reputation of its 20-year old director. The Federal Theatre Project was a program of The Works Project Administration, an attempt at economic stimulus during the Great Depression.
While watching the video, you can access in-depth background information: just activate captions by clicking on the speech bubble button in the bottom right hand corner of the screen.Also of interest is a collection of archival documents from the production, including photos, a production notebook, and the playscript, from the Federal Theatre Project Collection at the Library of Congress.
Below: A still photo from the Voodoo Macbeth, showing the Caribbean costumes and skeleton imagery in the set decor.
BBC's Bitesize Macbeth: an irreverent video summary of the play. Click on "back to Macbeth Index" for more enjoyable resources, including discussion and videos on Themes and Characters. While this discussion is about the play, most of it is relevant to the opera as well.