Baker’s Broth of Haunting Musical Hits
What do you get if you add Giuseppe Verdi’s tantalising music to the drama of the tragedy of all tragedies? Opera-in-a-box’s unique presentation of Shakespeare’s tale, thrown into the cauldron with Verdi’s sublime music makes for a devilishly delectable performance, staying loyal to many aspects of Shakespeare’s phrases and poetry, whilst demonstrating the fire and passion of Verdi’s music. Here are some of the musical highlights in our witches’ brew to look and listen out for.
The chorus of witches bestow fatal prophecy upon Macbeth, as is widely known in Shakespeare’s narrative. Musically, Verdi has had a lot of fun setting this aspect of the plot. They dance and sing demonically around their cauldron, chanting their recipes of doom as though it were a crazed dance. The witches also open the opera, just as they do in Shakespeare’s play. Their interaction with Macbeth and Banquo is marked by spooky long held chords, giving an air of mystery and terror about them.
They are not the only haunting characters by any means. Lady Macbeth, particularly in the second act, pours out her anguished heart in many a high pitched phrase: some staccato coloratura, some sweeping lines of incredible height and depth, and some down-right fierce moments, such as in the brilliant argument she has with Macbeth in Act 1. See how her bossiness and strength of character is embedded in her jagged melodies in conversation with her husband, who at this early stage in the story begins to show doubt as to the actions he has carried out in order to fulfil his destiny.
As well as haunting, demonic witches choruses and angry, fiery duets, there are moments of joy and triumph expressed in choruses that sound like celebratory military marches, which bring the tragedy to a rousing and fulfilled ending. Verdi encapsulates the human struggle both in the strength of his melodies that never fail to stir, (much like those witches); and also in the underlying accompaniment, creating pulsating rhythms that drive the action.
The rhythm of a heartbeat is never far away in Verdi’s accompaniment that seems to haunt the singers whom it is meant to be supporting. All the main characters and the chorus suffer to experience some haunted, repeated accompaniment figure at some point in the opera. Perhaps the heartbeat is like the witches, seemingly supportive at first, but ultimately, in Shakespeare’s words, a knell that summons them to heaven or to hell.
Being Verdi, there is a classic Brindisi (a drinking song) in which you may be forgiven for thinking you are being swept away by the witches into the Parisian courtesan’s circle as part of La Traviata, which Opera-in-a-box performed in 2018. The Brindisi in Macbeth occurs in the banquet scene, and all the characters (including the tragic protagonists) appear to have a jolly time forgetting all cares and sorrows – until several ghostly appearances. Naturally, Verdi is brilliant in the contrasts he creates between jolly drinking and being spooked. This dramatic scene just before the interval in our production includes a full, rousing chorus that heightens the drama and tension, making you desperate to see and find out more.
"So come to our cauldron and sample our broth of musical and dramatic delight".
Prepare to be amazed, even though you think you might already know a thing or two about the Scottish play – this setting has cunning musical twists and turns."
Sam Baker, Music Director