'Instruments of darkness' : a comparative critical analysis of the operatic versions of Macbeth by Verdi and Bloch
This thesis is a critical comparison of the Macbeth operas of Verdi and Bloch, with an examination of how the challenges posed by the play are dealt with by the two composers. It opens with a brief discussion of what makes the play suitable for operatic adaptation, followed by an outline of the musical techniques employed by both composers, and then a comparison of the two libretti. The main focus of this thesis is the issue of characterisation: the way in which it is altered to suit the operatic stage and how this affects the drama as a whole. There is firstly a detailed investigation of the parts played by the witches and Lady Macbeth, the way in which they are characterised through their music, and their relative importance in the downfall of Macbeth. This is followed by a brief examination of the 'good' characters, the questions raised by their presentation in play and operas, and whether the lack of any credible opposition to Macbeth contributes to the tragedy. The most substantial section of the thesis focuses on Macbeth, the problems posed by the complexity of Shakespeare's character, and the ways in which these are dealt with by Verdi and Bloch. The main issue is whether the inability of opera to present the full complexity of Macbeth's nature as verbally expressed, results in a weaker character and a lesser tragedy. Arising from the relative weakness of the operatic Macbeth is the question of how much responsibility he must bear for his downfall, and how much he is a victim of his wife, the witches, and external fates and events. Finally, taking into consideration the points raised above, conclusions are drawn regarding the success of these two operas, both as adaptations of Shakespeare and as dramatic works in their own right.