• 10 Things to Know about MACBETH

    By COC Staff

    Kicking off our spring run, a brand-new production of Verdi’s Macbeth delivers an epic opera-going experience to the COC stage! An unforgettable clash for power unfolds in one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, adapted for the operatic stage through one of Giuseppe Verdi’s most thrilling scores.

    Read on to learn the 10 things you should know before seeing Macbeth!

    The combined genius of Shakespeare and Verdi

    First published in 1623 (though thought to have been first performed in 1606), Shakespeare’s Macbeth has endured as one of the legendary playwright’s most beloved works, as well as one of the most widely celebrated and adapted works in all of theatre. A fervent fan of Shakespeare, Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi sought to compose a score fitting of the play he called “one of the greatest creations of man.” Thus, Verdi’s Macbeth was born—the first of his Shakespeare adaptations, and one of the composer’s first works to persist in the international repertoire.

    Don’t speak its name!

    Legend has it that a coven of witches set a curse upon Shakespeare for using a real spell within the work, promising disaster to fall upon any production in which someone speaks its name inside the theatre. “The Scottish Play” and “The Bard’s Play” have since become popular alternate titles for Macbeth, and the superstition (or curse, if you believe the legend) has been passed down to both opera and film adaptations of the work. 

    A new vision from the eyes of opera royalty

    Renowned Scottish director Sir David McVicar presents this new co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago. Quickly becoming a COC favourite, last here helming the 2019 production of Rusalka, McVicar’s work has received wide acclaim at major opera houses worldwide, including several new productions at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. With Macbeth, the director brings a lush new look to the classic tale, overflowing with epic costumes, sets, and special effects.

    The return of an international superstar

    COC favourite Sondra Radvanovsky marks her return to the Four Seasons Centre as Lady Macbeth! The Canadian-American soprano sang the role to high acclaim at this co-production’s world premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago last season, delivering a “truly sinister and powerful” interpretation of this role, one which features a huge vocal range. Next year, we look forward to another exceptional production from Radvanovsky and McVicar: Cherubini’s Medea, never before seen on our stage.

    A team of COC favourites

    COC regulars will notice some familiar faces among our cast and creative team! American baritone Quinn Kelsey stars in the title role, acclaimed for his performance as Germont in our 2015 production of La Traviata. Ensemble Studio alumnus Matthew Cairns makes his first appearance since graduating from the program, singing Kelsey’s foil, the ever-heroic Macduff. Leading the orchestra, Italian conductor Speranza Scappucci returns after dazzling audiences in 2020’s Barber of Seville.

    Opera without a love affair

    Upon its premiere, Italian audiences were shocked to witness “l’opera senza amore”—the opera without a typical love affair. What Macbeth presents instead, however, is one of the most famous power couples in all of theatre, with two complex, challenging roles pushing the action forward. Macbeth himself experiences an epic rise and fall, casting his wife aside, and damning his enemies. Not to be outdone, Lady Macbeth transforms the already-dynamic role of Shakespeare’s play to one of the most thrilling vocal challenges, complete with passages of bel canto, trills, and staccati.

    The voice of a devil

    While Verdi credits the Witches—sung not by three independent performers but by a chorus divided in three—as “rulers of the drama,” Lady Macbeth’s impact on the show’s story and legacy is undeniable. Verdi sought “a harsh, stifled, dark timbre” for the role, the right mix of charming and cruel, and thus capable of producing what the composer described as “the voice of a devil.” 

    A worthy adversary

    The heroic Macduff serves as a direct foil to the maniacal thirst for power displayed by Macbeth, creating an epic clash between good and evil throughout the work. Where Macduff shows integrity, Macbeth responds with cunning treachery; where Macduff expresses grief, Macbeth treats death with brutal indifference. Verdi masterfully plays up this contrast throughout the opera, too, casting Macduff as the heroic tenor opposite the dark and stormy baritone of Macbeth.

    On the stage and screen

    Since its premiere, Macbeth has persisted as a fascinating character study, attracting countless world-class directors and performers to adaptations of the work across stage and screen. Such legendary filmmakers as Akira Kurosawa, Orson Welles, and Joel Coen have adapted the work, while the title role has been performed by such notable actors as Sean Connery, Laurence Olivier, and Daniel Day-Lewis. On the operatic stage, many point to Maria Callas’ 1952 Teatro alla Scala performance as Lady Macbeth as a major moment, sustaining much of the work’s current popularity.

    A transformative score

    At its premiere in 1847, Verdi’s Macbeth sounded quite different than what opera lovers are familiar with today. This early version rarely strayed from the source material, but underwent a massive transformation nearly two decades later, when Verdi rewrote much of the opera alongside renowned librettist Francesco Maria Piave. This new version—which featured additional arias for Lady Macbeth, a ballet, a new chorus, and a new Act 4 ending—made its French premiere in 1865 to an initially poor critical reception, but laid the foundation for its long-term popularity as the main version performed today..

    Join us for Macbeth, opening on Friday, April 28! Tickets now on sale.

    Photos: Ken Howard
    Posted in 22/23 Season


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