This is the text of a lecture I had given at the NCPA some years ago, prior to a screening of Verdi's opera "Macbeth" based on Shakespeare's play.
FROM STAGE….TO STAGE
Scottish tragedy --- in the words of
Be that as it may, it certainly inspired Giuseppe Verdi to write some of his most impassioned music; making a decisive attempt to break from the musical strictures and conventions of opera in the mid-19th Century, to the extent of giving the text paramount importance in many scenes; with the music becoming subservient to its needs.
The best example of this is Macbeth’s “dagger” soliloquy in the opera. It follows Shakespeare closely; and its music is lyrical yet declamatory, free-flowing WITH the text, instead of adapting the latter to any formal musical structure. Verdi’s markings and instructions are astonishingly detailed and descriptive here, purely “expressive” in nature, totally motivated by dramatic pulse and impulse. In fact, for the duet that follows with Lady Macbeth, Verdi insisted (and I quote) that this “definitely must not be sung” but “acted and declaimed with hollow, masked voices”. And as for Lady Macbeth herself, Verdi rejected the original choice of singer because she had (and again I quote) “a wonderful voice, clear, flexible and strong, while Lady Macbeth’s voice should be hard, stifled and dark. Madame Tadolini has the voice of an angel, and Lady Macbeth’s should be that of a devil.”
Surely this was unprecedented in the history of opera till then; and it goes to show how Verdi, in “Macbeth”, took the art of the lyric stage, a stage further.
Another example of this; and an extremely important one: in the play,
after the murder of
A line of such immense significance is given an equally significant musical
motif, ending with the rise and fall of a semitone on the word “finito”. It
haunts the opera in various guises, just as the image of
And what has David Pountney, the director of the performance you are about to see, done with all this? He is a true “auteur”, investing each character, event and idea in “Macbeth” with an image that is unique and startling, forcing you to re-evaluate your previous impressions and see these entities afresh, often in a completely different, revelatory light. One such example is that of the letter in which Macbeth narrates the prophecies of the witches to his wife. This is what starts the ball rolling; its "image" is repeated in the second scene with the witches and, significantly, during the sleepwalking scene.
Yet, despite his very personal interpretation of the components, Pountney presents the spine of the play, its germ, with frightening lucidity --- unnatural events, when set into motion by man, have unnatural and dire consequences. And he conveys this in an interpretation that is very much in sync with Verdi’s music; and yet is very much of our time, loaded with symbolism familiar to a modern sensibility, thus taking Shakespeare’s, and Verdi’s, “Macbeth” another “stage” further.
So, William Shakespeare through Giuseppe Verdi through David Pountney to us, will be our topic of discussion after the screening. During which, the only sounds we need to hear are those of music, NOT mobiles. And since this will be a long evening, there will be a short intermission after Act 2, approximately 80 minutes from now.
Enjoy the film.