The pen of William Shakespeare has been a wonderful source of material for the arts, not least the creators of opera.

A prominent figure amongst these was Guiseppe Verdi who completed three operas based on plays by the Bard – the first being Macbeth in 1847, followed by Otello in 1887 and Falstaff in 1893 – and it’s Macbeth which Nice Opera is to stage this month in a new co-production with the Théâtre Anthéa d’Antibes and Opéra de Saint-Etienne.

An opera in four acts, Macbeth was written for the Teatro della Pergola in Florence, and has a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, with additions contributed by Andrea Maffei. Shakespeare’s play had at that stage yet to be performed in Italy, and although Verdi had read it many times – translated into Italian – he’d not seen a performance prior to composing the opera. The political slant of Macbeth did, however fascinate Verdi, active as he was in the Italian Risorgimento – the 19th century social and political movement and its role in the unification of Italy. The underlying themes of political corruption and tyrannical rule in Macbeth appealed to him. The story on which it is based struck its audiences as odd, though – an opera without a love affair! Nevertheless, Macbeth premiered at the Teatro della Pergola on 14th March, 1847, and was a huge success.

A second version was staged by the Théâtre Lyrique de Paris on 19th April, 1865.

The opera tells of Macbeth’s desire to become King of Scotland, and how he is persuaded by his fiercely ambitious wife to commit a series of murders to achieve his aims. He is consumed with remorse, however, and haunted by the ghost of one of his victims, Banquo, particularly as he recalled that the witches who had prophesied that he would become king, had also prophesied that Banquo’s line would endure and reign. Lady Macbeth descends into madness and ultimately death, having fiercely tried to wash blood off her hands during sleepwalking. Macduff, having been loyal to King Duncan, and having become suspicious of Macbeth after finding the body of the King, consequently conspires with Duncan’s son Malcolm to kill Macbeth.

The title role in Macbeth is sung by Slovak baritone Dalibor Jenis who makes frequent guest appearances at the Hamburgische Staatsoper, the Wiener Staatsoper, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and at the Opéra National de Paris. Mr Jenis most recently appeared in Puccini’s Tosca in Bologna and in Verdi’s Rigoletto with Opera Lyon and at the Opera Festival in Lyon. Following this appearance in Nice, he will be seen in two more Verdi operas – Otello in Brno and La Traviata in Seville.

Italian soprano Silvia Dalla Benetta sings Lady Macbeth in this production. A highly regarded soprano in the dramatic coloratura repertoire, Silvia Dalla Benetta is also known for her interpretation of Rossini’s dramatic roles. This year she celebrates the 30th anniversary of her career, having sung for the first time the role of Cleopatra in Handel’s Julius Caesar in Pisa. Following this appearance in Nice, she will again sing Lady Macbeth for Nice Opera in Antibes, and in September she takes the role of Leonora in Verdi’s Il trovatore at the Festival Verdi, Teatro Magnanin Fidenza.

Macduff is sung by Italian tenor Samuele Simoncini who has previously performed at the Arena di Verona and in the opera houses of Florence, Cremona, Parma, Berlin, Modena, Turin and with Israeli Opera. Roles in his repertoire include Rinuccio in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, Luigi in his Il tabarro, Calaf in Turandot, Manrico in Il trovatore, Radames in Verdi’s Aida and Ismaele in his Nabucco, Turiddu in Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana and Canio in Pagliacci, and Don Jose in Bizet’s Carmen.

Italian bass Giacomo Prestia takes the role of Banquo. He performs in major opera houses such as Teatro alla Scala, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Opéra National de Paris, Wiener Staatsoper, Opernhaus Zurich, Teatro Real de Madrid, Liceu de Barcelona, Staatsoper Unter den Linden and Deutsche Oper Berlin, Teatro Colón de Buenos Aires, Teatro Comunale in Bologna, San Carlo in Naples and Teatro Regio di Parma. Following this performance in both Nice and Antibes, he will appear in a staged version of Dusapin’s Il viaggio di Dante at the Aix en Provence Festival in July with the Paris National Opera.

Daniele Callegari, Chief Principal Conductor of the Nice Philharmonic, leads the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus of Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur. He has a particular interest in 20th century Italian operas and has conducted in some of the most prestigious concert halls in the world, such as Carnegie Hall, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, the Deutsche Oper and the Staatsoper in Berlin, Teatro alla Scala, Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv, La Monnaie in Brussels, Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, La Fenice in Venice, Metropolitan Opera, Opèra de Monte-Carlo, Opèra Bastille in Paris and the Wiener Staatsoper.

Lighting for this production is by Daniel Benoin, décor by Jean-Pierre Laporte, costumes by Nathalie Bérard-Benoin and video by Paulo Correia.

Macbeth runs at Nice Opera on 20th, 24th and 26th May at 20:00 and on 22nd May at 15:00. Tickets may be reserved here.

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Lead image courtesy Opéra de Nice Côte d’Azur

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