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Shakespeare at the Opera: Verdi's 'Macbeth'

The world of musical theater has seen plenty of splendid collaborations between writers and composers — famous creative tandems whose names are almost always linked together: Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, Rodgers and Hart, Verdi and Shakespeare ...

Giuseppe Verdi and William Shakespeare? OK, that last pair isn't exactly like the rest. For one thing, they never actually worked together as partners, having lived in different centuries. The relationship between Verdi and the Bard might, at best, be called a second-hand collaboration, once removed. Still, the results are among the most remarkable combinations of great drama and great music ever created — and they are also among the most unusual.

There are dozens, maybe hundreds of Shakespeare operas, depending on who's counting. But by any count, barely a half dozen of those operas still hold the stage: Gounod's Romeo and Juliet, Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream and maybe Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet or Otto Nicolai's The Merry Wives of Windsor. And the others? Remarkably, they're all by Verdi.

Verdi's last two operas, Otello and Falstaff, are both among the finest ever composed, and they're both based on Shakespeare. But it was much earlier in his career that the composer first showed his unique affinity for the Bard's plays with his boisterous yet strikingly emotional version of Macbeth, written when Verdi was still in his 30s.

World of Opera host Lisa Simeone brings us a Bavarian State Opera production of Macbeth that raised a few eyebrows — and drew more than a few hoots and catcalls — when it opened in Munich. It featured graphic scenes, gruesome tableaus and, at times, not much clothing. Musically, it was well-received, and soprano Nadja Michael earned raves for her vividly dramatic portrayal of Lady Macbeth. One critic wrote that she "looks like a supermodel and sings like a banshee." Also starring were baritone Zeljko Lucic as Macbeth and bass Roberto Scandiuzzi as Banquo.

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