Macbeth - Synopsis

Macbeth: Anna Netrebko, Simon Keenlyside Macbeth: Anna Netrebko Macbeth: Simon Keenlyside, Anna Netrebko

Macbeth

Giuseppe Verdi
Francesco Maria Piave after William Shakespeare

 

Act 1
Macbeth and Banquo meet witches, who greet Macbeth as the Thane of Cawdor and future king of Scotland. They prophesy to Banquo that he will be the father of kings. When messengers of King Duncan bring news of the Thane of Cawdor’s execution and announce that Macbeth has been chosen to succeed him, one of the prophecies has already come true.

In a letter from her husband Lady Macbeth learns of the witches’ predictions, and she urges him to stop at nothing, even murder, on his path to power. That same night Macbeth kills King Duncan, but shrinks from leaving the murder weapon beside the sleeping guards in order to incriminate them. Lady Macbeth thus carries out this part of the plan herself. At daybreak, the murder is discovered. Macbeth and his wife join in with the chorus of mourners.

Act 2
Macbeth is the new king. He is disturbed by the prophecy about Banquo’s heirs becoming kings and hires murderers to kill Banquo and his son Fleance. That night, Banquo is seized by dark forebodings.

Macbeth and his wife organize a large feast, and the king announces a drinking song of the queen. Macbeth is informed of the murder of Banquo and Fleance’s escape, and shortly afterwards Banquo’s ghost appears to him. Macbeth’s apparent insanity causes a commotion among the guests at the feast. Lady Macbeth questions Macbeth’s bravery and calls him a weakling. Macduff senses the truth and leaves the feast in order to bring Malcolm, Duncan’s son who fled, back to Scotland.

Act 3
Macbeth again consults the witches, who are busy with a horrible “nameless work”. They therefore send apparitions to answer Macbeth’s questions. The first warns the king about Macduff. The second encourages his murderousness, saying that “no man of woman born” can harm him. The third apparition is a crowned child who predicts that Macbeth will remain invincible “until he sees Birnam Wood come towards him”. Finally Macbeth manages
to make out eight kings, the last of whom looks like Banquo. Macbeth faints, and is reawakened by dancing spirits of the air.

Lady Macbeth hears about the latest prophecies from her husband. The royal couple become increasingly murderous and decide to burn down Macduff’s castle and have Banquo’s son killed.

Act 4
Scottish refugees lament the suffering of their country, which has become a tomb for its children. Macduff mourns his wife and children, who have been murdered by Macbeth. Malcolm meets English soldiers in Birnam Wood, not far from Macbeth’s castle, and camouflages his army using branches and leaves from the wood.

The chambermaid and a doctor witness Lady -Macbeth walking in her sleep and talking about the crimes she has committed.

Macbeth is plucking up his courage for the coming battle, and news of his wife’s death does little to deter him. He is informed that Birnam Wood is moving towards his castle. In a fierce fight, Macduff kills Macbeth. Again the prophecy comes true, because Macduff was “from his mother’s womb untimely ripp’d”. Malcolm is joyfully greeted as the new king of Scotland.