REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » VERDI, G.: Macbeth (Sferisterio Opera Festival, 2007)
Verdi was justifiably pleased with Macbeth, his tenth opera and his first on a Shakespearian
subject—it would long remain his own favourite among his ‘early period’ operas. Eighteen
years later, at the invitation of the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris, he substantially revised the score,
and this is the version (sung in Italian) presented here. The talented young cast is headed by
Giuseppe Altomare as Macbeth, one of Verdi’s most profoundly modern anti-heroes—a
political animal driven to bloody regicide yet doomed by his very success—with Olha Zhuravel
as his obsessively ambitious wife, driven to madness by her own guilt. “Daniele Callegari gives
Verdi’s creation its full due, matching the differing styles of the later and earlier music to give a
cohesive whole.” – Robert J Farr / MusicWeb International on Naxos 2.110258 (DVD)
Opera in Four Acts
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Macbeth - Giuseppe Altomare
Lady Macbeth - Olha Zhuravel
Banco - Pavel Kudinov
Macduff - Rubens Pelizzari
Malcolm - Marco Voleri
Il medico - Luca Dall’Amico
Un domestico di Macbeth / I apparizione - William Corrò
Il sicario - Andrea Pistolesi
II e III apparizione - Velia Moretti De Angelis, Valeria Cazacu
Ecate - Anbeta Toromani
Fleanzio - Dario Vinciguerra
FORM - Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana
Coro Lirico Marchigiano ‘V. Bellini’
‘For a long time I have been thinking of dedicating an opera to you, who have been my father, benefactor and friend.
Now here is this Macbeth, which I love more than my other operas and thus believe it more worthy of being presented
to you. The heart offers it; may the heart accept it, and may it be a witness to the eternal memory, the gratitude and
the love felt for you by your affectionate G. Verdi.’ March 1847
With these generous words, Verdi dedicated his first
Shakespearean opera to Antonio Barezzi, the father of his
beloved late wife Margherita who had died in 1840.
Verdi was truly inspired by his subject when he set to
work on Macbeth in the early autumn of 1846. Aged only
32, it would be his tenth opera in less than eight years and
the finished work shows his developing maturity and
individual style. He was justifiably pleased with the results
and it long remained his own favourite among his ‘early
period’ operas; but during composition he encountered
serious problems with the librettist, Francesco Maria Piave,
who had originally seemed to be the ideal writer for the
purpose. Piave had previously prepared texts for Verdi’s
Ernani and I due Foscari (both first produced in 1844)
and would later collaborate on Rigoletto (1851), La
Traviata (1853) and Simon Boccanegra (1857) among
other operas. But Verdi found the proffered Macbeth
libretto too verbose; during a difficult period of
composition, his letter to Piave contained wise advice:
‘Always keep this in mind…use few words…few
words…few but significant’.
Still Piave’s work did not satisfy and eventually the
composer invited his friend Andrea Maffei, the noted poet
and translator, to help complete the libretto.
Macbeth was originally intended for first performance
at Mantua’s Teatro Sociale, but the contract was passed
instead to Alessandro Lanari, impresario at the Teatro della
Pergola in Florence; and it was there, on 14 March 1847,
that the opera was presented. The cast included Marianna
Barbieri-Nini and Felice Varesi, whose polished performances
justified the many hours of rehearsal that Verdi
demanded. On the opening night several numbers were
encored, with the composer, who conducted, taking thirty
calls at the final curtain.
Verdi is famously quoted for the vocal qualities he
demanded of his leading soprano:
‘I don’t want Lady Macbeth to sing at all…Lady
Macbeth’s voice should be hard, stifled and dark’. And he
certainly found what he sought in his prima donna. The
rôle of Macbeth brought the baritone Varesi considerable
personal success which, he later said, was the most
important of his career. Verdi and his cast had triumphed,
and that in a country which knew little of Shakespeare
from staged productions of his plays. The composer
himself had read them (as had his coeval Berlioz, who
was, if anything, an even greater admirer of the Bard) and
it is posterity’s loss that his plans to write an opera based
on King Lear never came to fruition.
Following the première in Florence, other Italian opera
houses were eager to present their own productions of
Macbeth and within three years its initial success led to
further stagings in New York and Dublin, with
performances at Covent Garden also planned. This latter
project foundered, however, and it was over a hundred
years before the opera was finally seen in London.
But it was to London that his next new opera took
Verdi. Not to Covent Garden, but to Her Majesty’s Theatre
where, just four months after Macbeth’s opening night, he
conducted I Masnadieri with Jenny Lind on stage and
Queen Victoria in the audience. Verdi was now striding
towards his productive ‘middle period’ and during the next
eighteen years he composed (or prepared new versions of)
no fewer than thirteen operas, commissioned by theatres
throughout Italy, in Paris and St Petersburg. He soon
became (perhaps with the sole exception of the patriot
Garibaldi) the most famous man in Italy.
Eighteen years on, to 1865; his recent opera La forza
del destino had been well received in Russia when a request from Paris turned Verdi’s thoughts again to
Macbeth. The Théâtre Lyrique invited him to prepare a
new version, to be sung in French translation,
incorporating substantial changes to the original score. He
accepted the challenge, working hard and with some
difficulty, amending sections that needed improvement
and introducing some dramatic new musical material.
Having patched up his earlier differences with Piave, Verdi
invited the librettist to submit new text, which included
changes to the first act duet for Macbeth and his Lady, a
new aria—‘La luce langue’—for Lady Macbeth in Act 2,
a fresh duet to close Act 3 and re-writing both the chorus
‘Patria oppressa’ and the thrilling battle scene in the final
act. Paris, as always, demanded an extended ballet
sequence and Verdi added one to please his French public.
Yet again Piave proved troublesome but Verdi was able
to complete his task ready for the Paris première on 21
April 1865. His alterations undoubtedly improved the
already remarkable score, but the opera did not find favour
during the run of performances, despite the fine singing of
the principals Jean Vital Ismael and Inez Rey-Balla. One
French critic claimed, for example, that Verdi did not know
Shakespeare, a charge against which he passionately
‘Oh, they are terribly wrong. Perhaps I did not realise
Macbeth fully enough; but that I do not know it, that I do
not understand it, and I don’t have a feeling for
Shakespeare, no, by God, no. He is favourite poet of mine,
whose works I had in my hands from my early youth and
read and re-read all the time’.
After this disappointment Verdi busied himself with
new ideas; the King Lear project was considered, then
rejected, and he settled on Don Carlos, based on Schiller’s
play, as his next enterprise for the Paris Opéra. Macbeth
was all but forgotten.
It was another sixty years before conductors and singers
again showed interest in the neglected masterpiece. In
1928 Macbeth was presented in Dresden, where Fritz
Busch was Music Director, and in the twenty years that
followed several further productions were seen in
Germany, Italy and Austria. Particularly notable from that period was the first British staging, at Glyndebourne in
1938 (conducted by Busch) and revived for the first
Edinburgh Festival in 1947, where Margherita Grandi and
Francesco Valentino took the leads. Macbeth was also
performed in wartime Vienna in 1943 with Elisabeth
Höngen and Hans Hotter, conducted by Karl Böhm; at La
Scala, Milan (1952, with Maria Callas and Enzo
Mascherini, conductor de Sabata), at the Metropolitan
Opera, New York (1959, with Leonie Rysanek and
Leonard Warren, conductor Leinsdorf), and (finally!) at
Covent Garden, London (1960, Amy Shuard and Tito
Gobbi, conductor Molinari-Pradelli).
In the last fifty years Macbeth has taken its rightful
place in the repertoires of opera houses throughout the
world and Verdi’s own belief in the piece has been
vindicated; but why did it take so long to be accepted as
the great work it is?
The 1865 Paris version (sung in Italian) is almost
invariably performed these days, as it is on the present
DVD, recorded with the forces of the Sferisterio Opera
Festival, Macerata, Italy. Some productions retain sections
of the original fourth act whilst also including Verdi’s
revision of the battle scene (a case of double value for
money) and occasionally the original 1847 version has
been performed as composed, but this is more in the
interests of satisfying historical curiosity than a serious
attempt at re-instatement.
The last word should go to Verdi’s friend Emanuele
Muzio, who wrote to Macbeth’s dedicatee Antonio Barezzi
in 1846, during the early stages of the opera’s composition:
‘What sublime music! I tell you that there are things in
it that make your hair stand on end! Writing this music is
taking a great deal out of him but it is coming out very,
With acknowledgments to Verdi—A biography by Mary
Jane Phillips-Matz, published by Oxford University Press,
1993, from which the quotations by Verdi and Muzio have
© Paul Campion, 2009
The action takes place in Scotland during the 11th century.
 Prelude comprising themes from the witches’ scenes
and Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene.
Scene 1: A barren heath
 The witches await the arrival of Macbeth, Thane of
 As he enters with Banquo, the witches predict that
Macbeth shall soon be further ennobled and that Banquo
shall be the father of kings, though not a king himself.
Messengers come with news of Macbeth’s newly-granted
title, Thane of Cawdor.
 He and Banquo are amazed that one of the prophecies
has been so quickly fulfilled and, as the two men depart…
…the witches continue their wild chorus and dance.
Scene 2: A hall in Macbeth’s castle.
 Lady Macbeth reads a letter from her husband, which
tells of the extraordinary predictions. Her ambitions are
aroused and, when an imminent visit from King Duncan
…she sees the opportunity to bring to fruition another
of the prophecies—that Macbeth shall soon be king.
 Macbeth and his wife determine on murder—just as
Duncan himself enters the castle.
 When Duncan has retired for the night, Macbeth
follows and stabs him as he sleeps.
 He returns with blood-soaked hands and Lady Macbeth
snatches the dagger from him, taking it back to the scene of the crime, thus hoping to implicate the king’s guards in
 Macduff arrives with Banquo and they discover the
dead king’s body.
 The horror of the night’s events is expressed by
Macbeth, his wife, the guests and courtiers.
Scene 1: A room in the castle.
 Macbeth and his Lady know that, in order to realise
their unquenchable ambition, Banquo and his son Fleance
have to die.
 Lady Macbeth shows her pitiless resolve as Banquo’s
fate is sealed.
Scene 2: A park.
 Murderers lie in wait for Banquo.
 He reveals his fearful forebodings to Fleance but, as the
assassins strike his father, the boy makes his escape.
Scene 3: The banqueting hall.
 Macbeth is now king and he and his wife are hosting
 While Lady Macbeth drinks cheerfully to the good
times to come, one of the assassins reports news of
Banquo’s murder to Macbeth. As the guests take their
places at table, Banquo’s ghost appears to Macbeth.
Terrified, he challenges the phantom as Lady Macbeth
attempts to keep the party in good spirits, with the forced
gaiety of her drinking song. Macbeth loses his nerve as
his wife accuses him of cowardice and…
…the guests express alarm as their hosts’ guilty secrets
Scene: The witches’ cave.
 The witches are concocting fearsome spells and…
…during a ballet, Hecate, goddess of the Underworld,
 As Macbeth arrives, the witches invoke a series of
apparitions warning of future dangers to his life, which he
regards with little concern.
 Eight ghostly kings pass by, the last being Banquo,
whose son still lives as a threat to Macbeth’s kingship.
 Lady Macbeth inspires renewed determination in her
husband’s heart and together they swear vengeance against
any who would challenge their ambitions.
Scene 1: A deserted spot near Birnam, close to the
 Scottish refugees grieve at the suffering of their
 Macduff, whose wife and children have been killed by
Macbeth, seeks revenge on their murderer.
 Macduff and Malcolm swear to destroy the royal villain
who has caused such misery to his people.
Scene 2: A hall in Macbeth’s castle.
 A Doctor and a Lady’s Maid await the appearance of
Lady Macbeth, who has been seen sleepwalking.
 Her maddened conscience reveals her past crimes and
she re-lives the murder of Duncan, trying to wash her
blood-stained hands. Still asleep, she returns to bed and to
her guilt-ridden death.
Scene 3: A battlefield
 Macbeth, ever arrogant but now entirely alone…
…reflects on the terrible course his life has taken.
 He learns of his wife’s death and blames his soldiers for
betraying him. Still believing himself safe from his
adversaries he fights, but is killed by Macduff.
 Macbeth’s enemies proclaim their victory over evil and
greet Malcolm as their new king, with Fleance and his line
to succeed in due course.
Last Albums Viewed
VERDI, G.: Macbeth (Sferisterio Opera Festival, 20...