Andreas Mitisek, General Director

Ernest Bloch

  • Sep13 7:30PM
  • Sep17 7:30PM
  • Sep19 7:30PM
  • Sep21 3:00PM

About the Opera

A Chicago premiere, this powerful opera follows the torments that Macbeth and his Lady experience as they descend the spiral of ambition and murder. Doomed by his own guilt, Macbeth is slain by a man "not born of a woman." Bloch's forceful and striking score provides the expressive soundscape for this bone-chilling thriller, where "fair is foul and foul is fair."

Suzan Hanson - Nmon Ford Ernest Bloch was twenty-four years old when he began to sketch the music of his opera, Macbeth. For months he and his friend, the poet Edmond Fleg, had been trying out all sorts of ideas for lyrical theater on which to collaborate. On June 26, 1904, Bloch wrote that he was not too interested in the idea of Macbeth, that what he really wanted to write was a work of "great gaiety." In the following six months he changed his mind, for the next mention of Macbeth is on December 7, when he began to sketch the music of the Prologue, and on the 27th he writes that he has finished sketching the first Tableau, "certainly not material of great gaiety!"

For five years he worked on the opera, when he was not involved in his parents' business in Geneva, raising a family, giving lectures at the University of Lausanne, and conducting concerts there and in Neuchatel. It is hard to imagine how he could keep the continuity of such an opera with the sort of life he led, but Macbeth was the thread that held him together. His conception of the music was to express the inner ferments of the characters, more important to him than the actual external drama. With little encouragement from his countrymen, with no financial subsidy, he was stirred by an immense inner force. He exulted, he despaired, he slashed, he rewrote.

In 1907, when the music was almost all composed, Bloch had a chance to play it at a salon at the home of the son of George Bizet. Among the persons who heard it were the famous singer, Lucienne Breval, and critic Pierre Lalo. Both were enthused and arranged an interview for Bloch and Fleg with Albert Carre, director of the Paris Opera Comique. Carre at once signed up for the rights of performance of Macbeth within two years, an unheard of thing in Paris, to bring out the work of two young unknowns who were not even French.

In September 1909, Bloch finished the opera, copying the orchestral score himself, a tremendous job of several hundred pages; and on November 30, 1910, in Paris, after all sorts of upheavals and intrigues which Bloch reacted to dramatically in contrast with Fleg's calm and serene irony. Macbeth had its first performance. There were thirteen performances in all, which met with mixed reactions -- either tremendous admirations or complete dislike.

Bloch cherished a letter from a young woman musician, telling of her appreciation to Bloch and signed Nadia Boulanger. At the same time, Gabriel Faure, Boulanger's teacher, wrote that he was impressed by the opera but disturbed by the violence, the "laideurs" in the work. He felt that even though there was ugliness in the drama the music shouldn't necessarily express it. Piere Lalo wrote in praise of the work. Romain Rolland and others felt their faith in the young composer had been justified.

After the premiere in Paris teh opera lay unperformed for twenty-eight years. In 1938 it was revived at Teatro San Carlo in Naples where due to the anti-semitic edict by Mussolini the performances were halted. It was performed again in 1953 in Rome and then 1957 in Trieste. There followed performances in Brussels in 1958 and the following year after Bloch's death, at La Scala in Milan.  -Suzanne Bloch "ERNEST BLOCH: Creative Spirit".


The story is essentially that of the Shakespeare play, with the five acts compressed to three. The opera contains seven tableaux, with the prelude comprising the first tableau, and each of the three acts containing two tableaux.

The themes illustrated in Macbeth include ambition, fate, deception and treachery. Three witches decide to confront the great Scottish general Macbeth on his victorious return from a war between Scotland and Norway. The Scottish king, Duncan, decides that he will confer the title of the traitorous Cawdor on the heroic Macbeth. Macbeth, and another General called Banquo, happen upon the three witches. The witches predict that he will one day become king. He decides that he will murder Duncan. Macbeth's wife agrees to his plan. He then murders Duncan assisted by his wife who smears the blood of Duncan on the daggers of the sleeping guards. A nobleman called Macduff discovers the body. Macbeth kills the guards insisting that their daggers smeared with Duncan's blood are proof that they committed the murder. The crown passes to Macbeth. More murders ensue and the bloodied ghost of Banquo appears to Macbeth. Lady Macbeth's conscience now begins to torture her and she imagines that she can see her hands covered with blood. She commits suicide. Macduff kills Macbeth and installs Duncan's son, Malcolm, king.

About the Composer

The creator of music of great spiritual expression, Ernest Bloch was born on 24 July 1880 in Geneva, Switzerland. In his native city, he studied violin with Louis Rey and composition with Emile Jaques-Dalcroze and later studied under Eugene Ysaye and Francois Rasse in Brussels. Bloch's principal training, however, would be in Frankfurt with Iwan Knorr, who most influenced the composer's distinct musical personality. Bloch appropriated established and novel musical elements into highly dramatic scores, often influenced by philosophical, poetic, or religious themes.

A masterly composer of music for strings, Bloch wrote four string quartets, Schelomo--A Hebrew Rhapsody (for cello and orchestra), and A Voice in the Wilderness (for orchestra and cello obbligato), which are deeply emotional works and rank among the most distinguished achievements in the neo-classic and neo-romantic idiom of early 20th-century music. Bloch's pupil Roger Sessions praised him for his special ability to express "the grandeur of human suffering." The successful premiere by the Boston Symphony of Bloch's Trois Poèmes Juifs in 1917 encouraged the composer to settle in the United States. He soon assumed the directorship of the Cleveland Institute of Music and later the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He also taught at the University of California at Berkeley.

Bloch was distinguished in his lifetime by a long list of honors including honorary membership in the Academia Santa Cecilia in Rome, the first Gold Medal in Music of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the New York Music Critics' Circle Award for his String Quartet No. 2, and the same award later for his Concerto Grosso No. 2 and String Quartet No. 3. He was also the recipient of numerous honorary degrees.


Nmon Ford - Macbeth
Suzan Hanson - Lady Macbeth

Andreas Mitisek - Director / Production Design

Chicago Opera Theater

Andreas Mitisek, General Director
70 E. Lake Street Suite 415
Chicago, IL 60601
Box Office: 312.704.8414
Administrative: 312.704.8420

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