Macbeth Synopsis


Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretti by Fracesco Maria Piave
Adapted after the stage play by William Shakespeare

Opera Premiere: Teatro della Pergola, Florence Italy
March 14, 1847

American Premiere: Niblo’s Garden, New York
April 24, 1850

Characters & Synopsis

Macbeth: General in King Duncan’s Army
Banquo: General in King Duncan’s Army
Lady Macbeth: Macbeth’s Wife
Lady in Waiting: To Lady Macbeth
Macduff: Thane of Fife
Witches: Occupy the woods and prophecy of the future
Malcom: King Duncan’s Son
King Duncan: King of Scotland
Fleance: Son of Banquo
A Doctor
Scottish Nobles and Refugees
Cutthroats and Assassins
English Soldiers



Act I
In a Forest in Scotland, returning from a victorious battle, war heroes Macbeth and Banquo meet a group of witches who address Macbeth as the Thane of Cawdor, a position in royal hierarchy next in line to be King. The witches muse on their perverse intentions of setting torment in motion. They tell Banquo that he will be “the father of kings” but that he will not be king himself. Despite their weariness, the men plead for more information, but the witches vanish.

A messenger informs the men that the previous Thane of Cawdor has been accused of treason and that the title will now officially be bestowed upon Macbeth. Banquo observes how quickly the witches’ words are coming to fruition. Much like Banquo, Macbeth is also alarmed by the prophecy, as disturbing and conflicting thoughts of power and glory begin to haunt and excite him.

Act I, Scene II
Lady Macbeth reads Macbeth’s letter about the recent events. She accepts that crime may lie on the road to power as she calls on the witches for help to take away her feelings of compassion and fear, which she associates with her womanhood, in order to make her a warrior.

When Lady Macbeth reunites with Macbeth, she proposes a plan to murder King Duncan, the current King who is visiting the castle that evening. Lady Macbeth schemes to frame someone else for the crime, securing Macbeth’s place on the throne. Knowing that Macbeth may have reservations about the severity of the plan, she challenges his manhood. Through her coercion, Macbeth agrees to go along with the plan. Despite being haunted by visions of daggers and ridden with guilt, Macbeth murders the king. The guilt consumes Macbeth as Lady Macbeth antagonizes his mental demise.

Act I, Finale
Macduff, a Scottish Nobleman, enters the chambers and finds King Duncan murdered. The castle goes into shock.

Act II, Scene I & II
Malcolm, the son of the murdered king, has fled to England after being suspected of killing his father. Lady Macbeth explains how fortune demands another murder. Macbeth agrees that Banquo’s family is a threat to the throne and must be killed. They enlist a group of assassins to fulfill the murders.

Act II, Finale
The royal banquet hall welcomes members of the court. While Lady Macbeth entertains, Macbeth receives the news that Banquo is dead, but that his son has escaped. Macbeth is overcome with a vision of a dead man threatening him. Lady Macbeth unsuccessfully attempts to calm him, but the guests begin to question the king’s behavior. Macduff, enraged by the criminal rule over the county, vows to flee.

Macbeth visits the witches in an obscure cave, demanding more prophecies. Hecate, the goddess of the night and witchcraft, orders the witches to answer King Macbeth’s questions. Apparitions warn Macbeth to be cautious of Macduff. Visions of previous kings haunt Macbeth. Horrified by the apparitions, Macbeth collapses. They all disappear and his wife finds him. They resolve to kill Macduff and his family.

Act IV
Lamenting the loss of his family, and raging against Macbeth, Macduff joins refugees along the border between Scotland and England. Malcolm enters leading a host of English soldiers to invade Scotland as they enter the Wood of Birnam.

Act IV, Scene II
In a hall in the castle, the Doctor and Lady in Waiting struggle to aid Lady Macbeth as she has taken to sleepwalking; haunted by the horrors of her actions. Lady Macbeth persists on rubbing the stain of murder off her hands; “Can I not clean them…cannot wipe off this evil stain…the smell of blood still is on them.”

Act IV, Scene III
Macbeth learns of the queen’s death as he awaits the arrival of his enemies. Macduff enters and takes his revenge has he kills Macbeth.

Act IV, Finale
The English soldiers take Macbeth’s men as prisoners. Macduff proclaims Malcolm King of Scotland as the chorus rejoices that “Macbeth is dead; the tyrant is no more, destroyed by wrath and fury of our Lord, our God almighty and victorious!”

Insights from the Director, Keturah Stickann!