Opera in four acts on a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
, from William Shakespeare's tragedy of the same name.Première:
Florence, Pergola Theatre, March 14th, 1847.
Act I. In Scotland. Macbeth and Banco are returning from a victorious battle against the rebels. They meet three witches, who make them a prophecy: Macbeth will be lord of Cawdor and Banco's offspring will reign. The first prophecy comes true at once: a messenger arrives, bringing the royal nomination. At the castle, they await the arrival of the king. Lady Macbeth urges her husband to kill him.
Act II. The king has been assassinated. His son Malcolm is accused of the murder and must flee to England. Now that Macbeth is king of Scotland, his wife wants to eliminate Banco and his son Flaenzio. The father is murdered, but the son manages to escape. During a banquet, Banco's ghost comes to haunt Macbeth.
Act III. Macbeth is uneasy, and goes to the witches to question them. The verdict is obscure: he will remain lord of Scotland and absolutely invincible until the forest of Birnam moves against him. Lady Macbeth in the meantime urges him to kill the wife and children of Macduff who, with Malcolm, is gathering an army in England to attack Scotland.
Act IV. The invading army under Malcolm's and Macduff's command moves up secretly. Hidden in the forest of Birnam, the soldiers cut branches to camouflage their advance, ready for the decisive battle. Lady Macbeth, asleep, is tormented by bad dreams. Macbeth faces the invaders, but is killed in a duel. Thus the second prophecy of the witches is fulfilled.
Among the many Italian and foreign impresarios and theatres who clamoured for one of Verdi's works during the 1840s was Linari of the Pergola Theatre in Florence. For this theatre the Maestro turned to Shakespeare and his Macbeth, entrusting the libretto to Francesco Maria Piave, with some additions by Andrea Maffei. The first night took place on March 14th, 1847, with baritone Felice Varesi as Macbeth and soprano Marianna Barbieri as Lady Macbeth. It was a resounding success, and for this, Verdi even received an invitation to visit the Granduca. Verdi was so satisfied that he decided to stay in Florence for awhile, a period in which he had occasion to meet famous people such as the poet Giuseppe Giusti, the dramatist Gianbattista Nicolini, the nationally-known politician Bettino Ricasoli and the sculptor Giovanni Dupré.
In 1852, the restless mind of the Maestro was already thinking of revising Macbeth to present it at the Théâtre de l'Opéra in Paris, but Les Vêpres siciliennes was chosen for this theatre. In 1863 he planned on presenting it at the Théâtre Lyrique, but the revision took more time than planned. Piave worked on the verse, and the translation into French was done by Charles Nuitter and Alexandre Beaumont. The modifications were numerous: the aria of Lady Macbeth at the beginning of the second act, the dances and the duet between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the third act, the chorus of the exiles and the final hymn of victory were all changed.
In this new form Macbeth premièred in Paris on April 21st, 1865 at the Théâtre Lyrique Impériale.