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Verdi's 'Macbeth'

The world of musical theater has seen plenty of splendid collaborations between writers and composers — famous creative tandems whose names are almost always linked together. A few that come to mind are Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, Rodgers and Hart, Verdi and Shakespeare ...

Verdi and Shakespeare? OK, that last pair isn't exactly like the rest. For one thing, they never actually worked together as partners, having lived in different centuries and all. So, the relationship between Verdi and the Bard might, at best, be called a second-hand collaboration, once removed. Still, the results are among the most remarkable combinations of great drama and great music ever created — and they are also among the most unusual.

There are dozens, maybe hundreds of Shakespeare operas, depending on who's counting. But by any count, barely a half dozen of those operas still hold the stage: Gounod's Romeo and Juliet, Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream and maybe Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet or Otto Nicolai's The Merry Wives of Windsor. And the others? Remarkably, they're all by Giuseppe Verdi.

Verdi's last two operas, Otello and Falstaff, are both among the finest ever composed, and they're both based on Shakespeare. But it was much earlier in his career that the composer first showed his unique affinity for the Bard's plays, with his boisterous yet strikingly emotional version of Macbeth, written when Verdi was still in his 30s.

World of Opera host Lisa Simeone brings us a colorful, dramatic, and at times whimsical production of Macbeth from the Washington National Opera. In this show, Verdi's 18 witches not only have a devious cackle to their voices — some of them seem to cast spells by twirling hula hoops! Lisa also discusses the opera, and the production, with the company's General Director, Placido Domingo.

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