Macbeth Opera Synopsis

Giuseppe Verdi's 10th Opera

Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth and Zeljko Lucic as Macbeth star in Verdi's Shakespearian opera, Macbeth, performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City on Saturday, September 20, 2014.
Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth and Zeljko Lucic as Macbeth star in Verdi's Shakespearian opera, Macbeth, performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City on Saturday, September 20, 2014. Photo by Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images

Composer: Giuseppe Verdi

Premiered: March 14, 1847 - Teatro della Pergola, Florence

Setting of Macbeth: Verdi's opera, Macbeth, takes place in 11th century Scotland.

Other Verdi Opera Synopses:
FalstaffLa TraviataRigoletto, & Il Trovatore

Macbeth, Act 1

A group of witches have gathered near a battlefield to prophesy the future. As they recount their evil deeds, Macbeth and Banquo (triumphant Scottish army generals) arrive by happenstance.

The witches first greet Macbeth as Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland, despite King Duncan having the title, then greet Banquo as father of future kings. The two generals ask to know more, but the witches vanish. Within moments, the King Duncan's messengers arrive to declare Macbeth was named as the new King of Scotland. Realizing the first of the witches predictions has come to pass, Macbeth fantasizes about the crown while Banquo worries if their is a catch to the witches prophesies. The men continue to puzzle over the possibilities and consequences of accepting these fates.

In Macbeth's castle, Lady Macbeth receives a letter from her husband in which he details his mysterious encounter with the witches. The news ignites Lady Macbeth's ambitions, and she decides to take the crown by any means necessary. When she learns that King Duncan will be staying in her castle the same night Macbeth is to return, she crafts a plan to have him killed.

Later that evening after Macbeth arrives, she instructs him to murder the king. He has a vision of a dagger and proceeds to carry out the plan. However, upon entering the king's room, Macbeth has a moment of clarity and honor, and quickly decides against taking action. Lady Macbeth, furious with his cowardice, commits the crime herself, then places the murder weapon and smeared blood on the king's sleeping guards.

When she comes back to the room with Macbeth, she tells him he must gain more courage. Nobleman Macduff arrives with Banquo for an appointment with the king. When they discover the king has been murdered, they immediately alert the castle guards. Macbeth and his wife  rush into the room, pretending to be horrified and outraged.

Macbeth, Act 2

Sitting on the throne, Macbeth is now king. Meanwhile, King Duncan's son Malcolm has fled the country, leading everyone to believe him guilty of committing the murder. Macbeth tells his wife that he worries about the witches' second prophesy coming true, and they decide it best to have Banquo, as well as his son Fleance, killed.

Several men await outside of the Macbeth's castle for Banquo and his son to arrive for the banquet. As they approach, Banquo warily hesitates. Before they can run away, they are attacked by the men. Fleance barely escapes, but Banquo falls victim to their brutality. 

The Macbeths greet their arriving guests, after which Lady Macbeth sings a drinking song. Macbeth receives a report from his men telling him that Banquo is dead but his son escaped. Macbeth walks to his table only to find Banquo's ghost sitting in his seat. Macbeth begins to argue widely with him, drawing with him the attention of his guests.

Lady Macbeth does her best to quell the situation, but Macbeth continues to act like a mad man, speaking about witches and ghosts. As everyone hurries out of the castle, Macduff states that he is moving to another country since this one is ruled by the criminals and the cursed.

Macbeth, Act 3

Macbeth pays a visit to the witches after learning they have gathered in a cave. He asks them to prophesy for him again. This time, they show him three visions. First, they warn him to be cautious of Macduff. Second, Macbeth cannot be harmed by man born of a woman. Third, Macbeth can only be defeated when Birnam Wood marches against him. As a parting gift, the witches present Macbeth with a vision of Banquo's ghost leading a procession of his decedents, all of which are kings. Macbeth faints and the witches vanish once more.

When Macbeth awakes, he finds himself in his castle having been carried back by his men. He tells his wife all he has learned from the witches. To ensure their lasting reign, they conclude that Macduff and Banquo's son must be killed.

Macbeth, Act 4

Macduff, Scottish refugees, King Duncan's son Malcolm, and the English army join forces near the English border, after Macduff's entire family was killed by Macbeth's men. They begin marching toward Macbeth's castle. Malcolm instructs everyone to cut branches from the Birnam Woods to use as camouflage.

Lady Macbeth is attended by her servant and doctor as she sleepwalks through the castle, ranting about the atrocities she and her husband have committed. 

Macbeth is too busy to think about his wife after he learns that a small army of men were seen approaching the castle. Remembering what the witches told him, he takes solace. However, as he projects his future, he realizes that even in old age, he will never have peace. He will be reviled and hated, and not a kind or loving word will ever be spoken of him. Accepting his cursed fate, he remains indifferent when he is told that his wife has just died. 

Because of the approaching army's heavy use of camouflage, Macbeth is warned by his men that Birnam Woods is marching toward the castle. Macbeth rushes outside and joins his soldiers to confront their enemies. Macduff sets his sights on Macbeth and rages against him in battle. After overcoming Macbeth, Macduff tells him that he wasn't born of woman, rather he was ripped from her womb via Caesarean.

Macbeth curses the witches and their dubious prophesies, and the two men continue fighting before disappearing into the forest. Macduff reappears having killed Macbeth and declares Malcolm the new king of Scotland.