The Okavango Macbeth

The Okavango Macbeth

Libretto by Alexander McCall Smith, music by Tom Cunningham, the vocal score is published by Goodmusic. The opera can be performed with piano accompaniment from the vocal score but there is also a chamber group accompaniment available on hire from Goodmusic.

Goodmusic separately publishes a selection of Songs from The Okavango Macbeth, containing seven songs for solo voice (medium range) and piano.

A recording is available on Delphian Records: the CD was one of the Top 12 Classical CDs of 2012.

This adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is stunning. Beautifully staged and a quite unforgettable experience, this show will have you singing and dancing your way out of the theatre, It’s strong, powerful and utterly enjoyable. ***** Three Weeks Edinburgh, 30th August 2013.

New opera doesn’t get any better than Cunningham and McCall Smith’s The Okavango Macbeth, instantly accessible, incredibly melodic, The Public Reviews, 14th August 2013.

This fabulous chamber opera ... McCall Smith’s succinct libretto was spun by composer Tom Cunningham into gorgeous, tuneful melodies that lingered long after the show ended. ***** The Scotsman, 22nd April 2011.

This is a marvellous piece of dramatic entertainment, The Economist, 14th May 2010.

The Okavango Macbeth was given its premiere on 3rd October 2009 in Gaborone, Botswana, followed by 12 further performances there. It has since been performed in Edinburgh, Cambridge and Cape Town.

Set in the Botswana Okavango Delta, it tells a story of the struggle for power among competing baboons in their matriarchal society - thus drawing parallels with the Macbeth story.

There are seven principal characters and chorus and the staged version lasts 85 minutes. A shorter, concert version is also available.

You can watch: Botswana opening scene, Edinburgh excerpt.

You can hear the whole opera by following the links here.

The idea for this piece came when Alexander McCall Smith was on a wildlife safari holiday with friends in Botswana's Okavango Delta. He says: “I knew that there were two distinguished American primatologists, Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth, in the region who had spent some years researching baboon behaviour. I asked our river guide if he could take our boat across to where they worked.

“I had read their remarkable book – Baboon Metaphysics – which looks at how baboons view the world. I was struck by the hierarchical nature of baboon society and by the status and role of powerful females. It seemed to me that the essential elements of the Macbeth story could well be told in the context of baboon society. I sounded out the composer, Tom Cunningham, and we decided that this was a theme worthy of opera.”

Of the Botswana premiere, Pauline McLean, BBC Arts Correspondent wrote:

Lady Macbeth - played by Tshenolo Segokgo - is wonderfully entertaining, flirting and plotting among the baboons and her aria Do Not Fear To Close Your Eyes is one of the most memorable and moving of the show. Tshenolo is one of the few singers in the show who is actually pursuing a career in opera, having just finished a two year course at a French conservatoire. Lizibo Glenn Simon rises to the occasion with a Macbeth which captures beautifully the shallow arrogance of his character, goaded into action by his lady. The chorus too provide some wonderfully moving moments, not least in the aria they sing on the death of Duncan, a soaring heart-felt song which shakes the tin roof with its final anthem - "oh great Kalahari, oh wide Okavango, oh Africa".

Of the Edinburgh 2011 performances, Susan Nickalls of The Scotsman wrote:

McCall Smith's succinct libretto was spun by composer Tom Cunningham into gorgeous, tuneful melodies that lingered long after the show ended.

Of the Edinburgh 2013 performances, John Roberts of The Public Reviews wrote:

New opera doesn’t get any better than Cunningham and McCall Smith’s The Okavango Macbeth, instantly accessible, incredibly melodic and performed by the Edinburgh Studio Opera with relish and commitment. If you enjoy opera this is a must see, if you have never been to an opera then this is the perfect introductory piece to the art form, and the best thing about it, it's suitable for all the family.

Other media articles:

www.bachtrack.com Review, 20th April 2011

Spellbinding, The Midweek Sun (Botswana), 7th October 2009.

'Scots' opera gets Botswana treatment, BBC News, 4th October 2009.

Alexander McCall Smith: Why I turned Macbeth into a baboon opera, The Scotsman 8th January 2020