Macbeth (1847) was the young Giuseppe Verdi’s first Shakespearean opera. It became a dark and demonic work that irrevocably changed the outlines of belcanto. Anyone who missed Michael Thalheimer’s staging in Antwerp last season now has a new chance to see it in Ghent.
Shakespeare’s Macbeth is the chronicle of a downfall unleashed by three witches. They make a disturbing prediction to General Macbeth and his companion Banquo: while the first will one day become king, the second will bring forth kings. Driven by his manipulative wife and partner-in-crime, Macbeth decides to lend fate a helping hand. The two soon discover that ambition is an insatiable predator. As they commit murder after murder, they find themselves sinking deeper and deeper into a quagmire of power, guilt and madness.
‘This tragedy is one of man’s greatest creations,’ Verdi wrote to his librettist Francesco Maria Piave. ‘If we can't do anything big with it, let’s at least make it something special.’
The duo kept their word. Here there is no requisite love interest between a soprano and a tenor, but instead a pitch-black ménage à trois with three protagonists: Macbeth (baritone), Lady Macbeth (mezzo) and the incomparable chorus of witches that is the engine of this musical drama.
Almost twenty years after its creation, Verdi revised his Macbeth for the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris. If possible, this remake is even more innovative than the original. People don’t feel uplifted by this iconic story. But on the opera stage, drama and music rarely come closer to each other.