Opera Scotland

Macbeth and Banquo meet the witches

Macbeth in Scotland

Posted 25 Feb 2014

The first performance of Verdi's Macbeth in Scotland was on 25 August 1947 at Edinburgh's King's Theatre, staged by Glyndebourne as part of the very first Edinburgh International Festival.  This revival of the pre-war Ebert staging was conducted by Berthold Goldschmidt.  Francesco Valentino took the title role with Margherita Grandi  as his wife.

Verdi loved and understood Shakespeare, and his last two operas, Otello and Falstaff were quickly accepted to be masterly distillations of their source plays.  We now recognise Macbeth to be a similarly expert adaptation, far more faithful to the play than was common with romantic opera.

Scottish Opera did not attempt a staging until 1976, when David Pountney's production, conducted by Alexander Gibson, opened at the Edinburgh International Festival.  Norman Bailey sang Macbeth, with Galina Vishnevskaya as Lady Macbeth, David Ward as Banquo, David Hillman as Macduff and Graham Clark as Malcolm.

Scottish Opera's second staging also opened at the Edinburgh International Festival, conducted by Richard Armstrong and directed by Luc Bondy in 2000.  This was an impressive co-production with Vienna and Bordeaux.  A massive golden wall designed by Rolf Glittenburg curved round the back of the stage.  Richard Zeller and Kathleen Broderick were the Macbeths, with Carsten Stabell as Banquo.

The Edinburgh Interational Festival has recently given two concert performances in the Usher Hall. In 2003, Sir Charles Mackerras led the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Edinburgh Festival Chorus in a vividly dramatic account, with Violeta Urmana, Mark Delavan and John Relyea.  In 2009, another performance was given by Susan Neves, Lado Ataneli and, once more, John Relyea, conducted by David Robertson.

Scottish Opera has twice before shown how effectively this masterpiece can work with a piano and without a chorus. The first staging, in 1987, was a fascinating distillation by Richard Jones.  The witches were reduced to a trio, as in Shakespeare.  The Macbeths were Omar Ebrahim and Mary Lloyd-Davies.  Dominic Hill's current staging opened in 2005.

It remains a mystery why the work took so long to be put on the stage in Scotland - our archivist has found that arias were given in concert from time to time. The first performance in the British Isles was given in Dublin on 31 March 1859, with the great Pauline Viardot Garcia singing Lady Macbeth. Further performances were quickly given in Birmingham and Manchester.  This was in an era when companies of  Italian singers often toured the UK provinces, visiting Dublin, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh and other  prominent towns. One would think Macbeth could have been included on one of the many visits to Scotland.  But, like other Verdi works, it dropped from sight, and for many years it was uncommon to find performances of Verdi's operas other than Trovatore, Rigoletto or Traviata appearing in Scotland.

It was not until after the famous Glyndebourne production of 1938 that the work took its place in the operatic repertory.  It was therefore highly appropriate to stage Macbeth in Edinburgh on the occasion of the very first Edinburgh International Festival.

Our image is of Macbeth and Banquo meeting the witches on the heath in a painting by Theodore Chasseriau (credit wikimedia commons)


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