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Giuseppe Verdi

Verdi and Shakespeare

Verdi adored Shakespeare. Besides the three operas he took from him—MacbethOtello, and Falstaff—he considered (though briefly) doing a Tempest or Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet. He considered for a very long time, and came near to creating, an opera from his favorite play, King Lear.

He had not been to England when he composed Macbeth, but he had acquired, from friends like Andrea Maffei, solid information on the way Macbeth was staged in the country of its origin. For Macbeth, he cut the play down to opera size himself, creating a prose synopsis for his librettist, Francesco Maria Piave, to versify. 

Verdi worked himself so deeply into Shakespeare’s mind that in revising Macbeth for a Paris premiere, he took the gem of this performance—Lady Macbeth’s aria “La luce langue”—directly from Shakespeare, in collaboration with his wife:

“Verdi himself actually wrote the text for this aria—not only the detailed prose version he first sent to [his librettist] Piave on December 15, but the verses themselves, to which the librettist made only a few minor changes.”

Painting by Johann Henrich Fussli (1741-1825)

With English Subtitles

Conductor - Franz Welser-Most
Orchestra and Chorus of the Zurich Opera House

Macbeth - Thomas Hampson
Lady Macbeth - Paoletta Marrocu
Banco - Roberto Scandiuzzi
Macduff - Luis Lima
Dama di Lady Macbeth - Liuba Chuchrova
Malcolm - Miroslav Christoff
Medico - Peter Kalman

Overture 0:00
ACT 1 3:00

ACT 2 47:23

ACT 3 1:17:05

ACT 4 1:40:25

Giuseppe Verdi - Macbeth
Renato Bruson (Macbeth)
Maria Guleghina (Lady Macbeth)
Carlo Colombara (Banco)
Roberto Alagna (Macduff)
Fabio Sartori (Malcolm)

Teatro alla Scala, Milano - Direttore: Riccardo Muti -  Scenografia: Maria Bjornson

Macbeth is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi, with an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave and additions by Andrea Maffei, based on William Shakespeare's play of the same name. Written for the Teatro della Pergola in Florence, it was Verdi's tenth opera and premiered on 14 March 1847. Macbeth was the first Shakespeare play that Verdi adapted for the operatic stage. Almost twenty years later, Macbeth was revised and expanded in a French version and given in Paris on 19 April 1865.

The first version of Macbeth was completed during the time which Verdi described as his "galley years," which ranged over a period of 16 years, and one which saw the composer produce 22 operas. By the standards of the subject matter of almost all Italian operas during the first fifty years of the 19th century, Macbeth was highly unusual. The 1847 version was very successful and it was presented widely.

Pleased with his opera and with its reception, Verdi wrote to Antonio Barezzi, his former father-in-law and long-time supporter about two weeks after the premiere:


"I have long intended to dedicate an opera to you, who have been father, benefactor, and friend to me. It was a duty I should have fulfilled sooner if imperious circumstances had not prevented me. Now, I send you Macbeth which I prize above all my other operas, and therefore deem worthier to present to you."

The 1865 revision, produced in a French translation and with several additions was first given on 19 April of that year. It was less successful, and the opera largely faded from public view until the mid-20th century revivals.



Opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi with libretto by Francesco Maria Piave and additions by Andrea Maffei, based on William Shakespeare's play of the same name

Macbeth (always called "Macbetto" in the spoken text)
Lady Macbeth 
Banco (Banquo) 

Witches, messengers, nobles, attendants, refugees - chorus


Note: there are several differences between the 1847 and the 1865 versions which are noted below in text in indented brackets

Place: Scotland

Time: 11th century



Baritone. An army general, married to Lady Macbeth. He is a weak man, dominated by his wife. At his meeting with the Witches at the beginning of the opera, he is told that he will become king of Scotland, but that Banquo, who will never himself be king, will beget future kings of Scotland. Macbeth and his wife decide to eliminate the opposition. Duncan, the present king, having already declared Macbeth thane of Cawdor, is the first to be killed. Macbeth, at his wife's instigation, kills him in his bed but is too unnerved to take the bloody dagger he used back to the body to make it look as if a servant has done the deed. Next, Banquo and his heirs must die. Banquo is assassinated, but his son escapes. Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost sitting at his table. He again consults the Witches and hears their other prophecies about his immunity from death. After his wife sleepwalks and talks of their terrible deeds, he is given news of her death. Riddled with guilt, his behaviour is becoming more and more erratic. As the English army advances, the troops covered in tree branches, Macbeth sees the whole of Birnam Wood apparently 'moving'. He is killed by Macduff, and Duncan’s son, Malcolm, makes a triumphant return to claim the throne. Duet (with Lady Macbeth): Tutto ё finito! Fatal mia donna! ('It is done! My fateful lady'- the original Lady Macbeth recorded that there were 151 rehearsals of this duet before Verdi was satisfied that the singers had got it right). Created (1847) by Felice Varesi.

MACBETH - Fatal mia donna! Un murmure
Singers: Leo Nucci (Macbeth), Shirley Verrett (Lady).

Lady Macbeth:


Soprano. Wife of Macbeth. She is a very strong-minded lady, determined to see her husband become king of Scotland and quite prepared to murder anyone standing in his way. It is at her urging that her husband kills the present monarch, King Duncan. When Macbeth is too unnerved to return to the scene of his crime to replace the dagger he used, Lady Macbeth, undaunted, takes it back for him. But, in her famous sleepwalking scene, her servant and doctor overhear her talking of the dreadful crimes the two of them have committed. This is equivalent to the ‘mad scene’ of Italian opera of the previous generation (Bellini, Donizetti), so beloved by sopranos, as it gave them the chance to show off both their vocal and histrionic capabilities. Arias: Vieni, t'affretta (‘Hie thee hither’); La luce langue (‘The weak light thickens’); duet with Macbeth as above. Created (1847) by Marianna Barbieri-Nini

Anna Netrebko sings "La luce langue, il faro spegnesi" from Act II of Giuseppe Verdi's MACBETH

Anna Netrebko (Lady Macbeth)
Simon Keenlyside (Macbeth)
Paolo Carignani (Conductor)
Bayerisches Staatsorchester


Bass. An army general. The Witches having informed Macbeth that Banquo will never be king, but will father future kings, he has to be disposed of. He is killed, but his son, Fleance, manages to escape and so the succession is guaranteed. At a banquet in his castle Macbeth, now declared king, is horrified to see Banquo's ghost occupying his customary position at the table, covered in blood. Created ( 1847 ) by Michele Benedett

Nicolai Ghiaurov-Banquo's aria-Act I-"Studia il passo...Come dal ciel precipita"

Mario del Monaco - O figli, o figli miei!... Ah, la paterna mano


Tenor. A Scottish nobleman. The Witches warn Macbeth to beware of Macduff. It is Macduff who, going to wake King Duncan one morning, finds his body after Macbeth has killed him. Macduff's wife and children are further victims of the Macbeths’ ambition to rule Scotland. And it is Macduff who, at the end of the opera, kills Macbeth. Aria: O figli, O figli miei! (‘O children, my children!’). Created ( 1847 ) by Angelo Brunacci.


Tenor. Son of Duncan, the King of Scotland, and therefore the rightful heir to the throne. After his father's murder by Macbeth, Malcolm flees to England, but leads his troops into battle and enters Scotland with his victorious army to claim his throne. Created (1847) by Francesco Rossi.

Macbeth- G. Verdi- finale I act (Albert Memeti as Malcolm)



Scene 1: A heath

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.

Scene 2: Macbeth's castle

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.
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").




Scene 1: 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.

Scene 2: 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.

Scene 3: 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.
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").


Scene 1: Near the border between England and Scotland

Scottish refugees stand near the English border (Chorus: Patria oppressa - "Down-trodden country").
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").

Scene 2: Macbeth's castle

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.

Scene 3: The battlefield

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.
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.

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