Murder, He Wrote

Classic Arts Features   Murder, He Wrote
Baritone Thomas Hampson, who takes on the title role of Verdi'sMacbeth for the first time at the Met this month, tells Philipp Brieler why this opera marks a turning point in the composer's output.


Macbeth came early in Verdi's career, but it is considered one of his masterpieces. What makes Macbeth so extraordinary, compared to his other earlier operas, is that the musical language, its dynamic and harmonic range, is so much more developed in telling us what these characters are thinking. In that period around 1847, Verdi is waking up to a new kind of theatrical writing. He breaks ties with the bel canto era. It's a completely new operatic world.

What does this mean for a performer?

There's a different level of theatricality than in, say, Trovatore, where the characters keep reflecting on things that have happened to them earlier. The way the words and the music come together in Macbeth is immediate. What Macbeth says is what he means at the moment. We are aware of the murder taking place, and right after, we witness the conversation with his wife, as they are thinking about hiding. Their whole charade in the first act is a real-time experience. Which aspects of Macbeth's personality are you focusing on in your portrayal?

At the start, Macbeth is a soldier and commander and very good at what he does. He's conquering, he's going up the ranks. Then he turns. The thoughts that he starts to allow himself open him up for corruption. His fatal flaw is that he thinks he's unique and that he can get away with it. And he goes down a very precipitous route. Singers sometimes talk about a specific "Verdi style." What does that mean?

I think it's a mistake to speak in generalized terms of the "Verdi singer." Every Verdi opera requires different qualities and abilities, theatrically and vocally. That's what we love and admire in him. The most important thing is to be able to let your voice and your musicality reflect the emotions of the character you're playing.

Macbeth opened March 15.

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