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De SabataDramatic Soprano

Una macchia è qui tuttora . . . Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene from Verdi’s Macbeth

By March 4, 2023March 19th, 2023No Comments

I have done something like this in the past where I have posted several people singing the same aria. This time, I will post only two sopranos: Maria Callas and Shirley Verrett. This aria, the sleepwalking aria from Verdi’s Macbeth, is one of Verdi’s hardest dramatic arias. I will give a synopsis of the opera below so that you can know in which context this is being sung.

The aria begins at about 4:05 minutes.

Una macchia è qui tuttora…
Via, ti dico, o maledetta!…
Una… Due… gli è questa l’ora!
Tremi tu?… non osi entrar?
Un guerrier così codardo?
Oh vergogna!… orsù, t’affretta!…
Chi poteva in quel vegiardo
Tanto sangue immaginar?

Che parlò?…

Di Fiffe il Sire
Sposo e padre or or non era?…
Che n’avvenne?…
Si guarda le mani
E mai pulire queste mani io non saprò?…

Oh terror!…

Di sangue umano
Sa qui sempre… Arabia intera
Rimondar sì piccol mano
Co’ suoi balsami non può.


I panni indossa
Della notte… Or via, ti sbratta!…
Banco è spento, e dalla fossa
Chi morì non surse ancor.

Questo ancor?…

A letto, a letto…
Sfar non puoi la cosa fatta…
Batte alcuno!… andiam, Macbetto,
Non t’accusi il tuo pallor.

Ah, di lei pietà, Signor!

A spot is still here …
Away, I tell you, O cursed thing!
One .. two … this is the time for him!
Do you tremble? You dare not enter?
A warrior so cowardly?
O shame! Come on, hurry up!
Whoever could have imagined
so much blood in that old man!

What did she say?

The Thane of Fife
was he not recently husband and father?
What became of him?
(Looks at her hands)
And will I never know how to clean these

O terror!

There is still human blood here
All the perfumes of Arabia
are not able to cleanse this little hand
Ah ….

She sighs?

Put on your night clothes
… Come now, wash yourself!
Banquo is dead … and no one has ever
come back from the grave.

This too?

To bed, to bed …
What’s done cannot be undone…
Someone knocks … come on, Macbeth…
Let not your pallor accuse you!

Lord have mercy upon her!

The aria begins at 4:56 minutes.


Act I
Macbeth and Banquo – two generals in King Duncan’s army – meet three groups of witches. The witches greet Macbeth as Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and as King of Scotland. They greet Banquo as a father of Kings, who himself will never reign. The witches disappear and messengers arrive. The Thane of Cawdor has been executed for treason and Macbeth has been appointed to succeed him. Macbeth is disturbed by the swift fulfilment of the witches’ prophecy. All leave and the witches return. They predict that Macbeth will return to them.

Lady Macbeth reads a letter from Macbeth describing his encounter with the witches. She is determined that Macbeth will find the courage to murder King Duncan. It is announced that the King is imminently to arrive. Lady Macbeth appeals to dark forces to assist her. Macbeth enters and Lady Macbeth urges him to kill the visiting King.

King Duncan, Malcolm, his son, Banquo and Macduff are received by the Macbeths. Alone and troubled, Macbeth hallucinates, seeing a blood-stained weapon. He enters the King’s chamber to kill him. Lady Macbeth appears, listening intently. Macbeth reappears and describes the murder to Lady Macbeth. She tells him he must return to smear the King’s grooms with blood in order to implicate them in the crime. Macbeth is paralysed with remorse – so Lady Macbeth goes into the chamber herself. The couple then leave to wash blood from their hands. Banquo, his son Fleance, and Macduff enter. Banquo is uneasy. Macduff discovers the body of King Duncan. The assembled nobles, including Macbeth and Lady

Act II
Lady Macbeth confronts Macbeth: he is avoiding her. Macbeth is burdened by the witches’ prophecy that Banquo’s line will endure and reign. Encouraged by Lady Macbeth, Macbeth resolves to murder Banquo and Fleance. Alone, Lady Macbeth euphorically meditates on night, murder and the crown.

Murderers, hired by Macbeth, wait to attack Banquo and Fleance. Banquo – fatalistic and overwhelmed – is killed. Fleance escapes.

The Macbeths are greeted by the assembled nobles. While Lady Macbeth makes a toast, the murderers report Banquo’s death and Fleance’s escape to Macbeth. Returning to the nobles, Macbeth believes he sees the dead Banquo. Lady Macbeth attempts to resume the toast but Macbeth insists he sees Banquo once more. The atmosphere descends into suspicion, fear and hallucination.

The witches pour vile ingredients into their cauldron and dance. Hecate, the Queen of the Witches, appears. She signals that the witches may tell Macbeth about his destiny but must not tell him how he will finally meet his end. Macbeth arrives – anxious to consult the witches. He sees his future through three visions. First, a helmeted head urges him to beware of Macduff. Second, a blood-stained child assures him that no one born of a woman will harm him. Lastly, a child holding a branch assures Macbeth that he cannot be conquered as long as Birnam Wood does not move. Following these visions Macbeth sees eight Kings: Banquo and his descendents. Macbeth faints and the witches summon airy spirits to revive him. Waking, Macbeth informs Lady Macbeth of the visions. Together, they make a genocidal resolve – every one of their enemies must die.

Act IV
Macduff’s wife and family have been murdered and the refugees from Scotland grieve for their country. Malcolm arrives from exile. He urges the refugees to cut branches from Birnam Wood to disguise them advancing on Macbeth.

The doctor and the Lady-in-waiting observe Lady Macbeth sleepwalking. She obsessively tries to wash blood from her hands.

Alone, Macbeth understands himself to be feared, hated and unloved. Women bring news of Lady Macbeth’s death: Macbeth is unaffected. Soldiers report that Birnam Wood has started moving. Macbeth now understands the witches’ prophecy and prepares for battle. He is confronted by Macduff who tells him he was not ‘born of woman’ but ‘ripped from his mother’s womb’. Cornered, Macbeth comments ironically about kingship. He is killed and Malcolm is proclaimed King.

Maria Callas:

Maria Callas, original name Maria Cecilia Sophia Anna Kalogeropoulos, (born December 2, 1923, New York, New York, U.S.—died September 16, 1977, Paris, France), American-born Greek operatic soprano who revived classical coloratura roles in the mid-20th century with her lyrical and dramatic versatility.

Callas was the daughter of Greek immigrants and early developed an interest in singing. Accompanied by her mother, she left the United States in 1937 to study at the Athens Conservatory with soprano Elvira de Hidalgo. She sang locally in Cavalleria rusticana and Boccaccio and returned to the United States in 1945.

Her career began in earnest in August 1947, when she appeared in Verona in La Gioconda. Soon, under the tutoring of conductor Tullio Serafin, she made debuts in Venice, Turin, and Florence. In 1949 she first appeared in Rome, Buenos Aires, and Naples and in 1950 in Mexico City. Her powerful soprano voice, capable of sustaining both lyric and coloratura roles, was intensely dramatic; combined with her strong sense of theater and her scrupulously high artistic standards, it took her quickly to the forefront of contemporary opera talent. Her abilities made possible the revival of 19th-century bel canto works, notably those of Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti, that had long been dropped from standard repertoires.

Callas made her debut at the prestigious La Scala in Milan in 1950, singing in I Vespri siciliani. In 1952 she appeared at Covent Garden, London. Her American debut took place in November 1954 at Chicago’s Lyric Opera in the title role of Norma, a performance she repeated before a record audience at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Callas’s recordings were enthusiastically received, and she was one of the most popular singers of the period. Her much-publicized volatile temperament resulted in several protracted feuds with rivals and managers.

After a final operatic performance as Tosca at Covent Garden (July 1965), Callas made the film Medea (1969). In 1966 she became a Greek citizen and relinquished her U.S. citizenship. She taught master classes in opera at Juilliard (1972) before a last U.S. and European concert tour (1973–74). By the time of her retirement, she had performed more than 40 different roles and had recorded more than 20 complete operas.

Shirley Verrett:
May 31, 1931 – November 5, 2010

Shirley Verrett began her career as a mezzo soprano and went on to sing soprano roles to great acclaim.

Verrett was born on May 31, 1931, in New Orleans, one of five children. Her parents were strict Seventh-day Adventists. Her father, who ran a construction company and moved the family to Los Angeles when Verrett was a young girl, was a decent man, Verrett recalled in her book, though he routinely punished his children by strapping them on the legs.

Her parents encouraged Ms. Verrett’s talent, but wanted her to pursue a concert career in the mold of Marian Anderson. They disapproved of opera. When they made their first trip to Europe in 1962 to hear their daughter sing the title role in “Carmen” at the Spoleto Festival, they “got down on their knees and prayed for forgiveness,” Verrett wrote.

After singing the soprano role of Lady Macbeth in a landmark 1975 production of Verdi’s “Macbeth” at La Scala in Milan, demanding Milanese critics and impassioned Italian opera fans flocked to her every performance.

In the early days, like black artists before her, she experienced racial prejudice, as she recounts in her memoir, “I Never Walked Alone.” In 1959 the conductor Leopold Stokowski hired her to sing the Wood Dove in a performance of Schoenberg’s “Gurrelieder” with the Houston Symphony, but the orchestra’s board would not allow a black soloist to appear. To make amends, a shaken Stokowski took Verrett to the Philadelphia Orchestra for a performance of Falla’s “Amor Brujo,” which led to a fine recording.

By her own admission, Verrett’s singing was inconsistent. Even some admiring critics thought that she made a mistake by singing soprano repertory after establishing herself as one of the premiere mezzo-sopranos of her generation, riveting as Bizet’s Carmen and Saint-Saëns’s Delila.

To Verrett, the problem was not the nature of her voice but health issues. During the peak years she suffered from allergies to mold spores that could clog her bronchial tubes. She could not predict when her allergies would erupt. In 1976, just six weeks after singing Adalgisa in Bellini’s “Norma” at the Metropolitan Opera (a role traditionally performed by mezzo-sopranos), she sang the daunting soprano title role on tour with the Met, including a performance in Boston that earned a frenzied ovation. In his Boston Globe review, the critic Richard Dyer wrote that “what Verrett did added her Norma to that select company of contemporary performances that have enlarged the dimensions of operatic legend.”

Yet, in 1979, when New Yorkers finally had the chance to hear Verrett’s Norma at the Met, her allergies acted up and undermined her singing, as Ms. Verrett recalled in her memoir. Among her 126 performances with the Met, however, were many triumphs.

In 1973, when the company opened its historic production of Berlioz’s “Troyens,” starring Jon Vickers as Aeneas, Verrett sang not only the role of Cassandra in Part I of this epic opera, but also Dido in Part II, taking the place of the mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig, who had withdrawn because of an illness, a tour de force that entered Met annals.

At her best, Verrett could sing with both mellow richness and chilling power. Her full-voiced top notes easily cut through the orchestral outbursts in Verdi’s “Aida.” Yet as Lady Macbeth, during the “Sleepwalking Scene,” she could end the character’s haunting music with an ethereal final phrase capped by soft, shimmering high D-flat.