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Macbeth: English National Opera Guide 41

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Verdi came to Shakespeare through Italian translation and had never seen Macbeth on stage when he wrote his first version of the opera in 1847. Giorgio Melchiori draws a parallel between the conditions in which the playwright and the composer were working – the constraints of writing to commission, for certain artists, and for a given date – and compares their achievements. The supernatural was a vital element in both conceptions: the opera is ‘in the fantastic style’, with bizarre music for the witches’ dances and choruses. Quoting the London Punch and Judy man who thought Shakespeare had written Macbeth and the Three Dancing Witches, theatre historian Michael Booth vividly introduces the staging of Shakespeare in the nineteenth century. Harold Powers discusses how the dramatic situations lent themselves to the forms and purposes of Italian opera. Verdi’s substantial revisions of the score in 1865 led to a rejection of the earlier version of the text as well as the music. For this guide Jeremy Sams has made a new performing translation of passages from the 1845 version which do not appear later, so that this book offers a unique and easy way to analyse Verdi’s developing sense of opera.

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