Shakespeare's dark tragedy, "Macbeth," set in stark, gripping splendor by Giuseppe Verdi, opens the new year for Utah Opera, on Saturday, Jan. 15 at 7:30 p.m. Subsequent performances will be Jan. 17, 19 and 21 at 7:30, and Jan. 23 at 2 p.m., all in the Capitol Theatre.

The action is propelled by three witches on a barren heath, who hail Lord Macbeth thane of Glamis, thane of Cawdor and king-to-be of Scotland. Drunken with greed and impatience, Macbeth and his lady grasp for their fortunes prematurely, leaving a trail of death and disaster, but in the end they lose to fate's inevitabilities.Baritone Mark Rucker leads the cast as the vacillating Macbeth. A winner of the Pavarotti competition in 1986, Rucker has since sung with Vienna Staatsoper and Graz Opera, at the Bregenz Festival in "Nabucco,"' and during the past season with Opera Pacific, Connecticut Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre and New Orleans Opera. He's appeared with Portland, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Michigan, Hamilton, Miami and Virginia Operas, and sung his acclaimed Rigoletto at New York City Opera and elsewhere. Symphonic appearances are with Detroit, Los Angeles, Des Moines and San Francisco Opera Orchestras among others.

After a heroic last-minute substitution in 1992's "Un Ballo in Maschera," Frances Ginsberg returns to Utah Opera in her own right to sing Lady Macbeth, her first outing in the role. Engagements this season include Houston, Fort Worth, Miami and Cincinnati Operas. Other credits for this exciting dramatic soprano are Pittsburgh, Nice and Lille France, New Jersey and New York City Operas, also Opera Orchestra of New York performances.

Bass-baritone Andrew Wentzel brings a wealth of American opera and concert experience to his appearance as Banquo. His many credits include Metropolitan, New York City, Santa Fe, St. Louis and Washington Operas, also numerous concerts at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. Richard Drews tenor, who sings Macduff, won the Metropolitan Opera national council auditions and has appeared at the Met, New York City Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Santa Fe Opera.

A host of small parts will be filled by Utah singers, many of them graduates of the Young Artists program. Victoria Morris, Colleen Butler and Mary Ann Dresher are the witches, with Dana Slabaugh, Kimberly Mumford and Eric Glissmeyer as the apparitions. Others are Joseph Onstott, Gene Pack, James Miller, Allison Charney, Gabriel Medina, Robert Prosch and Houston Hill.

Anton Coppola returns to conduct "Macbeth" (see accompanying interview) with Utah Symphony, and U.O. general director Anne Ewers is stage director. Settings from New Orleans Opera are designed by David Gano. Company music administrator Lynn Jemison-Keisker prepares the chorus, with costumes designed and created by Susan Memmott Allred. Nicholas Cavallaro is lighting designer.

Tickets for "Macbeth," ranging from $10 to $50, are on sale at the ArtTix box office in the theater, 50 W. 200 South, and at Albertsons ArtTix locations along the Wasatch Front. For credit card sales call 801-355-ARTS. For mini-season tickets for "Macbeth" and "The Italian Girl in Algiers," starting at $18, call 534-1882.

- JAMES PRIGMORE, music director of Pioneer Theatre, will give the opera preview lecture for this production, titled "Macbeth: Opera as Drama." The place is Westminster College Jewett Center, Tuesday, Jan. 11 at 7:30 p.m., and admission is free, funded in part by the Utah Humanities Council. Refreshments will be served.

- THE OPERABYTES SYMPOSIUM will take place on Thursday, Jan. 13 at 12:15 p.m. in the Capitol Theater. Psychological and technical complexity of this gripping opera will be discussed by the stage director, conductor, costume and lighting designers. Bring your own lunch, or order from Ruby's Catering by calling 534-0842. Admission is free.