Doubled, Toiled, and Troubled: Macbeth Opera Checks all the Boxes


As is Latin tradition, all ninth graders will read William Shakespeare’s Macbeth this year. Coincidentally, Chicago’s Lyric Opera just performed Verdi’s Macbeth to commemorate its return to live audiences. I was skeptical about how much I would enjoy Macbeth as an opera, but I decided to give it a try. To my delight, I ended up really enjoying the show. The characters spoke and sang in Italian, but I was lucky because it had English subtitles. The plot was gory, and even a bit scary. Now: spoiler alert for those who have never read the play or seen the opera.

The story is one of ambition, revenge, and guilt. It features witches, ghosts, kings, queens, blood, and death. Macbeth is a powerful soldier in the army of King Duncan. Three Witches tell him that he is to become king. When King Duncan nominates his son Malcolm as his ruler, however, Macbeth is struck by ambition and confusion despite his earlier desire to let fate take its course. When Macbeth returns to his castle, he convinces himself that the assassination of the king is the simplest way for him to take the throne. When King Duncan pays a formal visit to Macbeth’s castle, a perfect opportunity arises to murder his way to the top. Macbeth is extremely skeptical to commit such a serious crime that he knows will result in a deadly punishment, but he pushes his doubts aside and murders the sleeping king following an evening of partying. Macbeth is encouraged and supported in this murder by his wife, who appears to have grown stronger as a result of the cruel slaughter. When the crime is exposed, Macbeth continues to slay its key witnesses and ultimately becomes king. Things go south, however, when Macbeth and his wife become consumed with guilt and both fall victim to murders of vengeance. They die, but only after a lot of singing. Malcolm is crowned as the next king of Scotland.

I thought the plot would be hard to follow, given its format, but the subtitles allowed me to understand exactly what the characters were singing. The story reminded me of a horror movie, and the music contributed to its sense of doom. I thought the costumes made the opera better because they were all very realistic. Each actor wore something unique, making the stage much more visually appealing.

It was great to be able to go out and see a performance live and in-person, especially given COVID restrictions over the past year and a half. I could tell that everyone else in the auditorium was equally excited to be in person. After seeing Macbeth, the opera, I am very excited to read the original play and also look forward to future performances at Chicago’s Lyric Opera.