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Lady Macbeth - from Head Conspirator to Wimp

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Lady Macbeth

From Head Conspirator to Wimp

The story of Macbeth by Shakespeare is one of his most read and most loved plays. It was not unlikely that out of all of his plays that Macbeth would be one of the few successful plays that would be turned into an opera. Verdi wrote the opera with librettists Francesco Maria Piave and Andrea Maffei. The opera was written around 1846 and premiered on March 14, 1847 at the Teatro dell Pergola in Florence, Italy. A few years later the Verdi revised the opera adding a ballet into it and taking out some things and was performed at the Teatre Lyrique in Paris on April 21, 1865. This opera in comparison to the play begins with the third scene of the play. Unlike some of Verdi and other composer's other operas the dialogue of Macbeth closely follows Shakespeare's dialogue throughout the entire opera. It has been said that the words throughout the opera are ore often than not a literal translation of Shakespeare's work.

All of this information is fine and gives us a general understanding of who wrote the opera and when, but what I want to focus on in this paper is the Prima Donna of the opera by Verdi: Lady Macbeth. Although she is an integral part to both the play also and since the opera is so closely related to the play, I will focus on the opera by Verdi. Through a character analysis, evidence on how Verdi saw his Lady Macbeth, and a discussion of her development through her arias, I will discuss how Lady Macbeth began as a woman thirsty to become Queen and ends as a woman that was willing to and did take her own life.

One of the lines of the play the Lady Macbeth said was very interesting that gives you the character of Lady Macbeth in one statement and Verdi's opera shows this. She says "...look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent under't. (I. v. 67-68)" This is the thesis statement of Lady Macbeth's life until the bitter end. Lady Macbeth is Macbeth's wife, a deeply ambitious woman who lusts for power and position. Early on she is the stronger and more ruthless of the two, as she urges her husband to kill the King, Duncan, and seize the thrown. Lady Macbeth exploits her sexual hold over Macbeth as a means to persuade him to commit murder after murder. However, their shared alienation from the world occasioned by their partnership in crime does not bring them closer together, but instead seems send them in different directions and on different paths of healing. After the bloodshed begins, however, Lady Macbeth falls victim to guilt and madness to an even greater degree than her husband. Her conscience affects her to such an extent that she eventually commits suicide. In other words, Lady Macbeth was a terribly ambitious woman that didn't mind killing a few people to get what she wants. This ambition later led to her suffering and her downfall at the end.

Through letters that were found that Verdi wrote to his librettist and to the actual singer of the role of Lady Macbeth we can see what he had in mind for her role. We can also see how important it was for Lady Macbeth in the opera to be as close as possible to the original role of Lady Macbeth in the play. He states on many occasions how great the English tragic poet is. In one of the letters that Verdi wrote it states, "I know that you are rehearsing Macbeth and as it is an opera in which I take more interest than in the others, permit me to say a few words about it. The part of Lady Macbeth has been given to Madame Tadolini and I am and I am surprised that she has consented to play this role. You know how much I admire Madame Tadolini and she knows it herself, but in all our interests I believe it necessary to remark that she has qualities too great for this part. That will perhaps seem absurd to you. But Madame Tadolini looks beautiful and good, and I should like Lady Macbeth to look ugly and evil. Madame Tadolini sings to perfection and I should like Lady Macbeth not to sing at all. Madame Tadolini's had a stupendous voice, clear, limpid, powerful; I should like in Lady Macbeth a voice rough, hoarse, and gloomy. Madame Tadolini's voice has angelic qualities; I should like the voice of Lady Macbeth to have something diabolical about it. She should moreover have a talent for declamation rather than for beauty of tone or elegance of vocal line...."

Singing during the time that Verdi wrote this opera was normally sung in a specific way. Singing in a way that was more spoken than sung was not something that was done often. Singing was more lyrical and it was focused more on the smooth vocal line. Italian prided themselves on their singers singing for beauty and the legato. This is evident in the request of one of the women who apparently was to sing the role of Lady Macbeth. She must have found the role difficult to interpret vocally and dramatically the way that Verdi wanted so she took it upon herself to write to him and ask if the role could be sung more like a cantabile. She also asked to omit the reading of the letter in the "letter scene". During that time also it was more of comic opera that had spoken dialogue or monologue in it, which made this a little awkward for a opera of this caliber to have spoken words in it. In a letter that Verdi wrote back to her he explained, "From your letter I see that you would much like a cantabile of the type of that in Fausta (Donizetti's operas). But if you will examine well the nature of this opera you will see that it could not be done without doing violence to the character and making nonsense of it. Besides it would be profanation to alter a character to great, so energetic, so original, as this created by the great English tragic poet. As I believe I told you before, this is a drama that has nothing in common with the others and we must all make every effort to render it in the most original manner possible. I believe that it is time to abandon the customary formulas and the usual methods... As for the letter, it's impossible to cut it out because it is fundamental to the drams, but if you don't like to recite it we will set it to music. I recommend to you these 2 pieces; the notes are easy and are written above all for their effect on stage; the sleepwalking scene is, for dramatic affect, one of the most sublime theatrical creations. Observe that every word has meaning and it is absolutely necessary to express it, both by voice and action... " Verdi was very adamant about how he wanted Lady Macbeth portrayed and he played a very active role in getting what he wanted and what he thought would do the best justice to the writings of Shakespeare.

Lady Macbeth's character in the opera has an absence of intimacy. She is seen more as the head conspirator instead of Macbeth's



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