Tag Archives: Drama
“Be guided by this, there are three roles in this opera and three roles only: Lady Macbeth, Macbeth and the chorus of the Witches.”—Giuseppe Verdi
In 1847, Giuseppe Verdi stood the world of Italian opera on its head when he wrote his tenth opera in seven years. (He would later refer to that grueling period as his “years in the galley.”) This was no routine work. In writing Macbeth, he made a major leap into the future—his future, Italian opera’s future, our future. It would take half a century for the logical consequence of Macbeth to be fully drawn, and even then it would take another 50 or 60 years before its significance was recognized.
With this opera, Verdi began the long process of dismantling the forms he inherited from Rossini and the bel canto period. In so doing, he irrevocably transformed Italian opera. Dramatic coherence became dominant. It is in Macbeth that he stipulates, with an insistence and virulence beyond what he had demonstrated in the past, what the singers must do to serve the drama. He no longer accepts the status quo, neither in the comportment of the singers, who must now act with their voices as well as their bodies, nor in the overall form of the music. Verdi chooses musical forms that fit the dramatic situation. The opera is not a series of formulaic scenes designed to showcase the vocal prowess of the performers, but a concentrated distillation of the dramatic essence. As he instructed baritone Felice Varesi, his first Macbeth: “I will not cease to recommend that you study the dramatic situations and the words: the music will follow on its own.”
I remember the night I was getting ready to see my sister perform in the children’s chorus in LA Opera’s production of Georges Bizet’s Carmen. I was nine years old and it was my first opera. As I stressed over what to wear, I kept imagining what it would be like when I opened the doors to the Dorothy Chandler: Hundreds of sophisticated adults in expensive outfits sipping champagne and discussing the show, and meanwhile I’d be sitting there feeling under dressed, under prepared, and terribly confused as to what they were even talking about.