Verdi’s life-long love affair with Shakespeare’s works began with Macbeth, a play he considered to be ‘one of the greatest creations of man’. With his librettist, Francesco Maria Piave, Verdi set out to create ‘something out of the ordinary’. Their success is borne out in every bar of a score that sees Verdi at his most theatrical: it bristles with demonic energy.
The warrior Macbeth fights on the side of the King of Scotland – but when a coven of witches prophesy that he shall become king himself, a ruthless ambition drives Macbeth and his wife to horrific acts.
Murder makes Macbeth king, and intrigue and butchery are the hallmarks of his brief, doomed reign. The witches make another prediction, which also comes true: Macbeth and his lady lose their lives, and justice is restored.
Phyllida Lloyd’s 2002 production for The Royal Opera is richly hued, shot through with black, red and gold. The witches – imagined by designer Anthony Ward as strange, scarlet-turbaned creatures – are ever-present agents of fate. Lloyd depicts the Macbeths’ childlessness as the dark sadness lurking behind their terrible deeds. The Royal Opera’s production uses Verdi’s 1865 Paris revision of the opera, which includes Lady Macbeth’s riveting aria ‘La luce langue’