Verdi’s Macbeth in Luzern

The Luzerner Theater is on the left bank of the Reuss River, at the lower end of Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstättersee in German). The theater dates from 1839, and now describes itself as “the oldest multi-genre venue in Central Switzerland” and as “one of the largest cultural institutions, offering a variety of opera, drama and dance productions.”

It has its own opera and drama ensembles (currently nine singers and eleven actors), so local spectators can see the same singers and actors in a variety of roles during the course of a season, and sometimes even see how they develop over several years. Some former ensemble members, such as the mezzo-soprano Tanya Ariane Baumgartner, have later gone on to have prominent international careers.

Looking down at the lobby of the Luzerner Theater

The opera I saw in Luzern was Macbeth by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). This was Verdi’s tenth opera, originally composed when he was thirty-three years old, and it was his first opera based on a play by William Shakespeare. (Much later, Verdi based his last two operas on Shakespeare plays: Otello and Falstaff.)

Program booklet for Macbeth in Luzern

Previously, I had seen Verdi’s Macbeth at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan and in Darmstadt and Passau, also several times in Frankfurt with Želiko Lučić in the title role.

Although I have never seen Shakespeare’s Macbeth on the stage, I have long been acquainted with the play because I read it in high school in the United States. The school’s policy at that time was that we dealt with one Shakespeare play each year; in my case, these were Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Hamlet, if I recall correctly.

(This apparently has not changed in the intervening seven decades; a recent survey determined that these same four plays “account for 85% of all Shakespearean plays included in high school instruction” even though Shakespeare wrote 38 plays altogether.)

Introductory talk before Verdi’s Macbeth

In her introductory talk before the performance, the dramaturge Christine Cyris pointed out that Verdi had written two versions of Macbeth, the first in 1847 for Florence and the second 1865 for Paris. In Luzern, the production team decided on a mixed version. They used mainly the Paris version, which they found much improved both musically and dramatically, but omitted the ballet that 19th century Paris operas always had to have, and went back to the first version for the ending, which they found stronger and more effective than the elaborate choral scene of the Paris version.

Seating in the Luzerner Theater

Unusually, the walls, floors and ceilings of the auditorium in the Luzerner Theater are all painted black, and the house lights are not very bright, so this is one of the darker auditoriums I have been in. (But not as dark as the opera house in Lyon, where even the seats are black.)

Applause after Macbeth in Luzern

For Macbeth, the walls and floor of the stage set were also black, and in some of the scenes black ashes floated down from above and collected on the floor.

The applause after Macbeth was long and enthusiastic. The two main roles, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, were sung by guest singers, Hrólfur Sæmundsson from Iceland and Susanne Elmark from Denmark, but the rest of the roles were all performed by members of the Luzern opera ensemble.

Audience leaving the theater after Macbeth

My photos and text in this post are from 2022.

See more posts on Luzern, Switzerland.
See more posts on Operas in Switzerland.
See also: Operas by Giuseppe Verdi.

3 thoughts on “Verdi’s Macbeth in Luzern”

  1. I think we had two Shakespeare plays for the three years of HS (9th grade was Junior High). I know we read Romeo and Juliet, and Julius Caeser in 10th grade, and I am sure we read the Merchant of Venice because we had to memorize Portia’s speech, and Macbeth and Hamlet – not sure about the sixth one. I don’t think i have seen any of the operas

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