This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the whole world is celebrating the Bard. While Shakespeare’s plays are brilliant when read and powerful when staged, there is something to be said for experiencing his stories set to music. Throughout history, opera composers have adapted Shakespeare plays into some of the most thrilling pieces in the repertory. We’ve compiled a list below of some operas based on Shakespeare plays. We’re sure you’ll fall in love them.
Macbeth by Giuseppe Verdi
Gripping. Dark. Exciting. Verdi’s opera expands on Shakespeare’s tale of betrayal and murder, getting into the wicked and tormented minds of the Macbeths (kind of like the Whites in Breaking Bad) through electrifying vocal lines and propulsive energy. It is not to be missed (especially since LA Opera’s 16/17 season opens with Macbeth on Sept 17).
Roméo et Juliette by Charles Gounod
Charles Gounod’s elegant and sumptuous score for his version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet heightens the connection between the two young lovers through no less than four romantic duets, making their ultimate fate that much more tragic. Learn more about LA Opera’s iconic production here.
Otello by Giuseppe Verdi
Fifteen years after the triumphant premiere of Aida, Verdi came out of retirement to write Otello, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play by the same name. With extraordinary character development, stunning orchestral virtuosity and a shattering final scene, Otello is considered one of the towering masterpieces in the entire operatic repertory. In 1986, LA Opera opened its inaugural season with Plácido Domingo playing the title role.
Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas
In this French grand opéra version of Hamlet, Ophelia has an elaborate coloratura mad scene (see above) and Hamlet survives to reign as king of Denmark (a departure, to say the least, from Shakespeare’s original blood-soaked ending). Thomas streamlined the grandiose outlines of the tragic play to focus on the four main characters, and it works when taken on its own terms: bold, dramatic and richly orchestrated, with splashy showpieces for the soprano and baritone leading roles. It’s also the first opera to feature the newly-invented saxophone.
The Tempest by Thomas Adès
A contemporary addition to the Shakespeare opera repertory, Adès’s The Tempest premiered at London’s Covent Garden in 2004. The evocative, dreamy score—variously shimmering, dissonant or crystalline—conveys all the magic and majesty of Shakespeare’s fantastical play, and the opera has proven a hit with audiences around the world.
Now, get a dose of Shakespeare and celebrate by experiencing Macbeth this season.
To learn more about LA Opera and to purchase tickets to Macbeth, click here.LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.