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Christopher Busietta as Malcolm in Macb*th.
Christopher Busietta as Malcolm in Macb*th.
© A.T. Schaefer.

Macb*th…

Traditionally, Macb*th, William Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy written for the stage, is not allowed to be referred to by name, but rather as „the Scottish play“. The operatic version was composed by Giuseppe Verdi, with an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave and additions by Andrea Maffei.

The story of Macb*th is as follows:

Macb*th and Banquo, two Scottish generals and friends, have defeated the allied forces of Ireland and Norway lead by the traitors Macdonwald and the Thane of Cawdor.

On the way from the battlefield, they run into witches, who prophesize that Macb*th will receive the title of the deceased Thane of Cawdor and that he will soon be King. When Banquo asks his prophecy, they tell him that he will not be as great as Macb*th, but even greater as his children will be Kings. When they meet with Duncan, everything the witches say come to pass and this plants the seeds of ambition.

Lady Macbeth (Sally du Randt) & Macb*th (Matias Tosi).
Lady Macb*th (Sally du Randt) & Macb*th (Matias Tosi) in Theater Augsburg's production of Macb*th.
© A.T. Schaefer.

Macb*th writes about this prophecy to his wife, which plants the seeds of ambition. Lady Macb*th goads her husband into killing King Duncan. His son and heir, Malcolm (the role I am playing onstage), is forced to flee into hiding and Macb*th is crowned King. Thus the witches' prophecies are fulfilled.

Macb*th is psychologically affected by the murders he has committed as is his wife, and also disturbed about Banquo's prophesised future, so he visits the witches again. They each give him a second prophecy: beware Macduff, no man of woman born can harm Macb*th & that he will reign until the Birnam wood reaches his doorstep.

Despite the good news, Macb*th cannot relax, since he knows that none of his children will be Kings, so he believes that Banquo and Macduff, as well as other noblemen, are threats. So he sends murderers to eliminate them and their children – although Banquo’s son escapes and Macduff, not being in the country, is spared. Macduff’s wife and children are killed and after grieving he swears revenge.

Malcolm and Macduff raise an army and besiege Macb*th, cutting down trees from Birnam wood to disguise their passage. Macb*th is then killed by Macduff, who is able to do so as he was ripped from his mother’s womb prematurely and therefore not born of woman. Thus the second prophecy is fulfilled.

Malcolm then takes the throne. Whether Banquo's children become King later is never revealed.

A remorseful Lady Macb*th (Sally du Randt).
A remorseful Lady Macb*th (Sally du Randt).
Theater Augsburg's production of Macb*th.
© A.T. Schaefer.

Apparently terrible things can happen by uttering the title of this play/opera in a theatre.

No other play (or opera) is more famous for its theatre superstitions than Macb*th. According to legend (taken from Wikipedia because I am too lazy to do any more extensive research), the earliest incarnation of the curse was that an actor died because a real dagger was mistakenly used instead of the prop. But fire, further death and injury have apparently followed in the wake of uttering the name of this opera/play.

I am unfortunately guilty of referring to it constantly by name and so far one singer has had a minor car accident and another has developed a severe allergy. Whether it is caused by the curse or whether it is simply coincidence remains to be seen.

There are many counter curses for uttering the title of this opera in the theatre, the simplest one is to turn around three times, which I will be doing before I give my Toi Toi Toi’s for tonight.

Scene from Theater Augsburg's production of Macb*th.
Scene from Theater Augsburg's production of Macb*th.
© A.T. Schaefer.

The opera and the play

The opera, as far as I’m concerned, is a very good interpretation of the original play. Certainly, significant detail needs to be removed, because the presence of music means that a libretto needs to be very concise or risk becoming too long. So to make everything consistent with the original play, you need to keep the source material in mind and include Verdi's stage directions - which provide important visual story telling.

Here are some of the differences that I've noticed. Firstly, many characters are absent and, Banquo aside, the others are reduced greatly. This makes the roles of Macb*th and Lady Macb*th arguably even more present than they are in the play.

The witches turn from a trio into a chorus affects nothing of the plot and is a great operatic effect. Many of the noblemen become integrated in crowd scenes and become the male chorus.

The roles of Macduff and Malcolm in particular are cut significantly. Malcolm only has two lines to explain how he his getting Birnam wood to move on Macb*th’s castle and only one line (“ti conforti la vendetta”) to comfort Macduff and invoke the desire to avenge them both. That Malcolm flees Scotland is not mentioned, but in our production Malcolm is shown fleeing when Macbeth is crowned King.

King Duncan, not insignificant in the play, is a silent role and only has one mimed scene in the opera where he is welcomed by Macbeth and then murdered (traditionally off-stage). Malcolm enters also with the King in the first act just to show they are father and son. The children as well are also silent roles as there is no time to develop them as characters either.

In opera however, that is all that is needed. Everything from the original play is in there, just sped up or implied. There is nothing that contradicts the original Shakespeare work. What the Verdi opera does brilliantly is providing a several scenes of exposition in Macduff’s aria and Banquo’s big monologue before his death, set to music, becomes the grandest emotional moment in the whole piece.

Christopher Busietta as Malcolm in Macb*th.
Christopher Busietta as Malcolm in Macb*th.

I am playing the role of the King’s Son – Malcolm.

It is a relatively small role, but of vital importance. Because he doesn’t have a lot to say, there is a lot to read between the lines. In the opera, his role is stripped back to just a handful of phrases, much like Gaston in La Traviata.

Verdi is, however, very clear about Malcolm’s character – his music is completely heroic and military. You could argue that Malcolm is a coward and a manipulator in the play, because he flees the country, then convinces Macduff to face Macb*th and avenge the both of them instead of doing it himself. At least, that was my first impression on studying the play in high school. However, with the music the way Verdi wrote it, it is impossible to believe that he is so weak!

That’s what makes this opera so great – the music really does illustrate the characters and their intentions, as Verdi always does so well.


Verdi’s Macb*th opens tonight (30th May 2015), 7:30pm at Theater Augsburg.

Directed by Lorenzo Fioroni, musical direction by Lancelot Fuhrey.

Starring Matias Tosi (Macb*th), Sally du Randt (Lady Macb*th), Vladislav Solodyagin (Banquo), Macduff (Ji-Woon Kim) and Christopher Busietta (Malcolm).

Links:

  1. Macb*th: Theater Augsburg’s Production of Macb*th.
  2. The Curse of Macbeth: Article by Nathanael Hirtle & Marco Saad, 2004.
  3. Macbeth: Shakespeare vs. Verdi: Differences between the Shakespeare play and the Verdi by blogger Ms.OperaGeek
  4. Wikipedia - The Scottish Play: Wikipedia article on Macb*th superstitions
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