No composer wrote as many great operatic finales as did Giuseppe Verdi. His Macbeth is a creature of both his early and middle periods. Originally written in 1847 and first presented at Florence’s Teatro della Pergola in March of that year it was was extensively revised in 1865. This revised version was first performed at the Théâtre Lyrique, Paris in April, 1865. The finale to Act 1 is one of Verdi’s grander conceptions. It was left unchanged in the revised version simply because it was so good as to forbid improvement. It begins with the entrance of Macduff and Banquo and the discovery of King Duncan’s murder. The Macbeths re-enter and feign surprise and horror at the killing. Then there’s a massive outburst by all the principals and chorus. This is followed by a passage of such melodic and emotional invention that beggars description. The final stretta ends the act with more horror and outrage.
The excerpt below was recorded by the same cast that had given Macbeth it’s Met premiere on February 5, 1959. Erich Leinsdorf was the conductor. It’s unfathomable why the opera took 112 years to reach the Met given that it is one of its composer’s greatest masterpieces.