Giuseppe Verdi

Macbeth, opera

    Description by Richard LeSueur

    Giuseppe Verdi was always fascinated by the plays of Shakespeare; he wrote three operas based on them, and contemplated a fourth (based on King Lear) but was never able to find the proper libretto. Macbeth was the earliest of these Shakespeare adaptations, and a work which never quite satisfied the composer. The first version of the opera premiered in 1847 in Florence, but the version best known today is the revision the composer made for the 1865 Parisian revival. The changes include a new aria for Lady Macbeth in Act Two, the addition of a ballet scene for the witches, and the removal of Macbeth's death scene. In nearly every scene, there are at least some minor changes.

    There is a famous letter in which Verdi states that Lady Macbeth must not have a beautiful voice, but must portray the evil of her character. It is difficult to reconcile this statement with the music he composed for her, which is some of the most florid, difficult, and dramatic of his career. Her entrance begins with a spoken reading of the letter from Macbeth, followed by a recitative. In her Sleepwalking scene, we find Verdi at his most dramatic, with the vocal line being more spoken than sung, yet at the end she is required to rise to a high D flat as softly as possible. The title role, while not as complex, requires considerable dramatic flair, as well as the bel canto line to bring off his aria, "Pietà, rispetto, amore." Of the secondary characters, Macduff and Banquo are most notable, and both have lovely arias.

    Shakespeare's three witches become a three-part chorus whose music inspires more laughter than fear in this setting. Choruses denouncing tyranny often brought out the best in Verdi, and so it is not surprising that the patriotic choral outcry before Macduff's aria is among the strongest pieces in the work. The ballet music written for the premiere of the revised version in Paris is usually omitted today without much harm to the score.

    The performance history of Macbeth was relatively sparse until it was revived in German in the 1930s; since that time the opera has had continued success, although it did not reach the Metropolitan Opera until 1959. Part of the problem was the casting of Lady Macbeth. Although it asks for high Cs, and even a D flat, in the Sleepwalking scene, the role lies very low for most sopranos. The early German revivals often cast the role with a mezzo-soprano; today the role is entrusted to any singer who feels that she can adequately portray the role. Two of the greatest singing actresses of the twentieth century had a great success with the role: Maria Callas (although she only sang it five times) and Leonie Rysanek (who sang the Metropolitan Opera premiere). In its best moments, Macbeth conveys all of the drama of Shakespeare and melds it with some of Verdi's finest music.


    1. Prelude
    2. No. 2, Che faceste? dite su!
    3. No. 3a, Giorno non vidi mai
    4. No. 3b, Du vaticini compiuto or sono
    5. No. 4, S'allontanarono!
    6. No. 5a, Nel di della vittoria
    7. No. 5b, Vieni! t'affretta!
    8. No. 5c, Ambizioso spirto
    9. No. 5d, Or tutti sorgete
    10. No. 7a, Sappia la sposa mia
    11. No. 7b, Regna il sonno
    12. No. 7c, Fatal mia donna!
    13. No. 8a, Di destario per tempo
    14. No. 8b, Schiudi, inferno, la bocca
    15. No. 9a, Perché mi sfuggi
    16. No. 9b, La luce langue
    17. No. 10, Chi oso madarvi a noi?
    18. No. 11a, Studia il passo
    19. No. 11b, Come dal ciel precipita
    20. No. 12a, Salve, o Re!
    21. No. 12b, Si colmi il calice
    22. No. 12c, Va' spirto d'abisso!
    23. No. 13, Tre volte miagola la gatta
    24. No. 14, Ballet Music
    25. No. 15a, Finché appelli
    26. No. 15b, Fuggi, regal fantasima
    27. No. 16, Ondine e Silfidi
    28. No. 17a, Ove son io?
    29. No. 17b, Ora di morte
    30. No. 18, Patria appressa!
    31. No. 19a, O figli, o figli miei!
    32. No. 19b, Ah, la paterna mano
    33. No. 20, Dove siam? che bosco è quello?
    34. No. 21a, Vegliammo in van due notti
    35. No. 21b, Una macchia è qui tutt'ora
    36. No. 22a, Perfidi! All'Anglo contro me v'unite!
    37. No. 22b, Pietà, rispetto, amore
    38. No. 23, Ella è morta!
    39. No. 24, Vittoria (Finale)

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Glossa GCD 923411
    2017 Warner Classics 9029584470
    2017 Warner Classics 563920
    2017 Warner Classics 0190295844479
    2016 Warner Classics 557380
    2014 Walhall WLCD 0380
    2014 Chandos CHAN 31802
    2013 Sony Classical 88883721202
    2013 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099941674
    2012 Myto Records MCD 00310
    2012 Decca
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099931927
    2011 RCA Red Seal / Sony Classical 7855762
    2011 Orfeo C 8431121
    2010 Urania 22.407
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 001303802
    2009 Naxos 8660256-60
    2009 Ponto [Mitridate] 2002
    2009 Orfeo D'Or 766082
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 4400734380
    2007 Allegro Corporation 9808
    2007 Philips 000829802
    2007 BRV 9801
    2006 Opera D'Oro 7027
    2006 Document / Documents Classics 224012
    2006 Myto Records 63115
    2005 Great Opera Performances 66313
    2005 EMI Classics
    2003 Opera Rara 301
    2003 Decca 440048
    2002 Opera D'Oro 1337
    2000 Myto Records 974.166
    1999 Opera D'Oro 1201
    1999 Preiser Records 90175
    1999 EMI Music Distribution 67128
    1999 Living Stage 34708
    1999 London 433039
    1997 Dynamic 194/1-2
    1997 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243566447
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 449 732-2GOR2
    1996 Myto Records 962145
    1995 Bella Voce 7203
    1995 Myto Records 952128
    1995 Pantheon 6604
    1993 EMI Music Distribution 64944
    1990 RCA 4516
    1986 Deutsche Grammophon 415688
    Arkadia 427
    Opera Italia 11
    Golden Age of Opera 185
    Preiser Records 90482
    Philips 412133
    EMI Music Distribution 64339
    Hungaroton 12738
    Disky 705
    Disky 750
    Foyer Records 2027
    Legato Classics 143