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Line of witches with lanterns watching Lady Macbeth sleepwalk


Spring 2019

Giuseppe Verdi

Macbeth will be king. But royalty comes at a price
Spring 2019
  • 4 Stars

    A formidable new production…


  • 4 Stars

    This is 19th-century Italian opera at its most intense.

    Evening Standard

  • 4 Stars

    …a lively production



Act I

Somewhere along the Scottish border, a coven of witches tell Macbeth that he shall be both Thane of Cawdor, and King of Scotland. They then tell his friend Banquo that he will be father of Kings, but not King himself. A messenger informs Macbeth that

he has been made Thane of Cawdor. Shocked at the immediate fulfilment of the prophecy, he begins to burn with ambition for the crown, though Banquo warns him against trusting the witches.

In Macbeth’s castle compound, Lady Macbeth hopes her husband will be ruthless in pursuit of the crown. When Macbeth arrives with King Duncan as guest, the husband and wife quickly plot his murder and execute it. Banquo and Macduff arrive to greet the king, discover the regicide, and swear to have vengeance on the unknown assassins.

Act II

Macbeth begins to brood on the witches’ prediction about Banquo’s descendants, and decides to kill him and his children. Lady Macbeth sings ecstatically of her delight at being queen. Banquo’s murderers assemble and wait for their victim. He arrives with his son, and remembers the gloomy night Duncan was killed. The assassins attack him, but his son escapes. At a banqueting reception, Lady Macbeth sings a jolly drinking song, which is interrupted when her husband sees the ghost of Banquo at the table. Macbeth begins to rave, and decides that he will visit the witches again to know his fate.


Back again at the border, the witches show Macbeth three apparitions who tell him to beware of Macduff, adding that none born of woman shall harm him, and that he need not worry until Birnam Wood shall advance upon him. At first he is relieved, but they then show him a procession of kings, all of whom seem to be descended from Banquo, and he faints. Lady Macbeth enters, and encourages him to find Macduff and Banquo’s son and kill them both.

Act IV

A chorus of Scottish refugees lament the fate of their homeland under the tyrant Macbeth. Macduff (whose family have been murdered) swears to have revenge.

Back in the castle compound Lady Macbeth is discovered sleepwalking, and murmuring about all the crimes she has been party to.

In another room in the castle, Macbeth realises that his actions have left his life empty and full of fear. A lady-in-waiting tells him that Lady Macbeth is dead, and he reacts with cynical indifference. He then learns that Birnam Wood is ‘moving’ closer and he prepares to fight. In the battle, Macduff reveals

that he was ‘ripped untimely from
his mother’s womb’ – and hence not ‘born of woman.’ He kills Macbeth, and the chorus rejoice in the liberation of Scotland.