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Bob Bernard's Corner: The Death of Macbeth

or: Dying with Dignity

By Bob Bernard

Following Lady Macbeth’s suicide, Macbeth’s aria (Pietà, rispetto, amore / "Compassion, honour, love") acknowledges his lose-lose situation. He knows he is already hated and feared; that there will be no compassion, honour and love for him in his old age, that, even if he wins this battle, there will be no kind words on a royal tomb, but rather, only curses and hatred as his legacy.

After this, what remains for us to witness, of course, is the death of Macbeth. Shakespeare gave short shrift to Macbeth at the moment of death: Macbeth and Macduff exit fighting, and Macduff returns, carrying Macbeth’s head.

Verdi’s original librettist, Piave, used a prose translation of Shakespeare, resulting in the anomalous circumstance of Verdi never actually examining Shakespeare’s text until after the opera had premiered in 1847. So it is no wonder the revised version (from 1865) – and generally used now in modern productions – favors those particulars which are closer to a literal reading of Shakespeare. However, these productions give more emphasis to the crowning of Malcolm (Duncan’s son) than to Macbeth’s last moments. This, of course, affects the staging of the last moments of the opera. Here baritone Leo Nucci lies rather pathetically onstage while the assembly congratulates Macduff:

Leo Nucci as Macbeth, Parma, 2006

Somewhat more satisfying was seeing Željko Lučić lurch offstage in the Met’s 2008 staging:

          

Željko Lučić’s Macbeth, stabbed by Dmitri Pittas’s Macduff and staggering offstage to die, Met HD, 2008

I believe the following is the best way for LAO’s Macbeth to die: with dignity, on stage, with a semicircle of soldiers focusing our attention upon him with their spears, a spotlight illuminating his every quiver and twitch, mortally wounded, singing “Mal per me che m’affidai,” blaming his own "trusting in the prophesies of Hell" for his fate. LAO stage director Darko Tresnjak will likely give us something like this to relish [Valencia, Dec. 2015], a return to Verdi and Piave’s original setting from the premiere in 1847:

          

Plácido Domingo’s Macbeth: Final grasp of his crown before yielding to the celebration of Malcolm

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