WEST COAST PREMIERE
Libretto by Edmond Fleg after Shakespeare
Ambitious. Violent. Treacherous. Macbeth, incited by witches' prophecies and the promptings of his manipulating wife, sells his soul to be king. Once a great man, he trades honor for power. Doomed by his own deeds, he is killed by a man “not born of a woman.” Swiss-American composer Ernest Bloch’s lavish and highly dramatic 1906 score creates the perfect tone for this bone-chilling thriller.
Composed between 1904 and 1906, Ernest Bloch’s opera reveals the influence of Wagner's music dramas and Claude Debussy's symbolist opera "Pelleas et Melisande." Bloch's probing and dramatic score powerfully illuminates the central couple, and deeply examines the temptation of promised power and its influence over our actions. but it did not receive its first performance until November 30, 1910 by the Opéra-Comique Paris. After the premiere production, the opera was staged in 1938 in Naples, but was then banned on orders of the Fascist government. Subsequently, the opera was produced in Rome in 1953, and in Trieste. The opera was staged only once in the US, in English, at the Juilliard School of Music in New York in 1973.
Ernest Bloch (1880 -1959)
The creator of music of great spiritual expression, Ernest Bloch was born on 24 July 1880 in Geneva, Switzerland. In his native city, he studied violin with Louis Rey and composition with Emile Jaques-Dalcroze and later studied under Eugene Ysaye and Francois Rasse in Brussels. Bloch's principal training, however, would be in Frankfurt with Iwan Knorr, who most influenced the composer's distinct musical personality. Bloch appropriated established and novel musical elements into highly dramatic scores, often influenced by philosophical, poetic, or religious themes.
A masterly composer of music for strings, Bloch wrote four string quartets, Schelomo--A Hebrew Rhapsody (for cello and orchestra), and A Voice in the Wilderness (for orchestra and cello obbligato), which are deeply emotional works and rank among the most distinguished achievements in the neo-classic and neo-romantic idiom of early 20th-century music. Bloch's pupil Roger Sessions praised him for his special ability to express "the grandeur of human suffering." The successful premiere by the Boston Symphony of Bloch's Trois Poèmes Juifs in 1917 encouraged the composer to settle in the United States. He soon assumed the directorship of the Cleveland Institute of Music and later the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He also taught at the University of California at Berkeley.
Bloch was distinguished in his lifetime by a long list of honors including honorary membership in the Academia Santa Cecilia in Rome, the first Gold Medal in Music of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the New York Music Critics' Circle Award for his String Quartet No. 2, and the same award later for his Concerto Grosso No. 2 and String Quartet No. 3. He was also the recipient of numerous honorary degrees.
Macbeth by Shakespeare
In The Tragedy of Macbeth, the shortest and most compressed of Shakespeare's tragedies, uncontrollable ambition incites Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, to murder the rightful king and usurp the throne, until their own guilt destroys them in turn. The play clearly demonstrates the corrupting effect of ambition, but also deals with the relationship between cruelty and masculinity, tyranny and kingship, treachery, violence, guilt, prophecy, and disruption of the natural order.
The play is believed to have been written sometime between 1603 and 1607. The earliest account of a performance of what was probably Shakespeare's play is April 1611, when Simon Forman recorded seeing such a play at the Globe Theatre. It was first published in the Folio of 1623, possibly from a prompt book. The play was most likely written during the reign of James I, who had been James VI of Scotland before he succeeded to the English throne in 1603. James was a patron of Shakespeare’s acting company, and of all the plays Shakespeare wrote under James’s reign, Macbeth most clearly reflects the playwright’s close relationship with the sovereign.
Macbeth is Shakespeare’s shortest and bloodiest tragedy, and tells the story of a brave Scottish general named Macbeth who receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the throne for himself. His reign is racked with guilt and paranoia, and he soon becomes a tyrannical ruler as he is forced to commit more and more murders to protect himself from enmity and suspicion. The bloodbath swiftly takes Macbeth and Lady Macbeth into realms of arrogance, madness, and death.
Shakespeare's source for the tragedy are the accounts of King Macbeth of Scotland, Macduff, and Duncan in Holinshed's Chronicles (1587), a history of England, Scotland and Ireland familiar to Shakespeare and his contemporaries. However, the story of Macbeth as told by Shakespeare bears little relation to real events in Scottish history, as Macbeth was an admired and able monarch.
In the backstage world of theatre, some believe that the play is cursed, and will not mention its title aloud, referring to it instead as "the Scottish play". Over the course of many centuries, the play has attracted some of the most renowned actors to the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. It has been adapted to film, television, opera, novels, comic books, and other media.
Read the entire Shakespeare play here.
MAcbeth, King of Scotland
Macbeth (died 1057) was king of Scotland from 1040 to 1057. Although he is best known through the Shakespearean drama bearing his name, his historical importance lies in the fact that he was the last Celtic king of Scotland.
The career of Macbeth is hidden in obscurity, but certain facts make it clear that Shakespeare's portrayal of the character of the man is at marked variance with reality. Macbeth was a person of great importance before he became king. As holder of the office of mormaer of Moray by virtue of inheritance from his father, he was a district chieftain and one of a handful of the most important men of the realm. His own ancestry could be traced back to royalty, and he was cousin to Duncan I (reigned 1034-1040), whom he served as commander of the royal army. His wife, Gruoch, was also descended from royalty. Macbeth came to represent opposition to the king at several points: in him northern and Celtic sentiments found a defender against southern and Saxon influences supported by Duncan; and Macbeth had personal claims to kingship in his own name and in that of his stepson, Lulach.
There was some question about the right of Duncan to be king since, as grandson of Malcolm II, he represented the first instance of the rule of primogeniture in the history of the Scottish crown. The usual principle of succession required that the crown pass to a collateral of the king, not to heirs of the direct line. As Macbeth pressed his claim, he had tradition on his side; he won the crown by slaying Duncan at Bothgowanan in 1040.
During Macbeth's reign there was only one native uprising, that led by Abbot Crinan, Duncan's father. The realm was peaceful enough for Macbeth to make a pilgrimage to Rome in 1050. An invasion from Northumberland in the name of Duncan's son, Malcolm (later, Malcolm III), was repulsed in 1054. A second invasion, in 1057, led by Malcolm was successful, and Macbeth fell in battle; but rather than accept the "Saxon" Malcolm, Macbeth's supporters took Lulach for their king. Within a few months LuIach was defeated, and Malcolm was able to inaugurate the Canmore dynasty.
This dynastic revolution seems to be the basis for the identification of Macbeth as a monster and usurper. When later Canmore kings fought Celtic forces of decentralization, they exalted their ancestor Duncan and developed a hostile vision of Macbeth, the last Celtic king, so as to discredit the Celtic cause. The first written picture of Macbeth in this new light came in the Scotichronicon of John of Fordun (ca. 1380). From this base the legend grew until it reached its fullest statement in the writing of Raphael Holinshed, the immediate source for Shakespeare
Italian music critic and essayist Guido Gatti was the author of long essays on Ernest Bloch, including one entitled Two "Macbeths": Verdi-Bloch in 1926 presenting the differences between the two works. In the passage quoted below, he vividly describes the musical environment in which Bloch composed Macbeth:
...it suffices to bear in mind the esthetic epoch in which the 'Macbeth' of Ernest Bloch was conceived, between 1903 and 1906, to perceive therein reflected that peculiar view of life and art whence issued its masterpiece--Debussy's 'Pelleas et Melisande.' Those were the years of crepuscularism, of the symphony in gray, of the internal tragedy without outcry, of passions repressed and entertained without joy, of the annulment of all combative enrgy as opposed to the force of a destiny that is not the Greek Fate, no longer a divinity outside ourselves, but an inexorable 'ananke' [force] borne within ourselves, that exists in every created thing, in man as in nature, a something apparently inanimate.--This art, of a refinement such as had never been known, is a reaction from romanticism and activism; it would be as a bath to drown our sorrows, and our joys, too; it denies the utility of rebellion and, as ultimate consequence, of action; it raises phantoms and evokes a hueless atmosphere, creates a sensibility of morbid delicacy. It has been called, in a phrase that is too comprehensive and therefore vague, a decadent art; and yet it has given our generation works that will not soon be forgotten, has opened unknown horizons, has revealed shortcomings of its rival art that we had not perceived before.
From The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Jan. 1926)
Translated by Theodore Baker
The story is essentially that of the Shakespeare play, with the five acts compressed to three. The opera contains seven tableaux, with the prelude comprising the first tableau, and each of the three acts containing two tableaux.
The themes illustrated in Macbeth include ambition, fate, deception and treachery. Three witches decide to confront the great Scottish general Macbeth on his victorious return from a war between Scotland and Norway. The Scottish king, Duncan, decides that he will confer the title of the traitorous Cawdor on the heroic Macbeth. Macbeth, and another General called Banquo, happen upon the three witches. The witches predict that he will one day become king. He decides that he will murder Duncan. Macbeth's wife agrees to his plan. He then murders Duncan assisted by his wife who smears the blood of Duncan on the daggers of the sleeping guards. A nobleman called Macduff discovers the body. Macbeth kills the guards insisting that their daggers smeared with Duncan's blood are proof that they committed the murder. The crown passes to Macbeth. More murders ensue and the bloodied ghost of Banquo appears to Macbeth. Lady Macbeth's conscience now begins to torture her and she imagines that she can see her hands covered with blood. She commits suicide. Macduff kills Macbeth and becomes king.