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Wednesday 19 October 2016 - A touch of the sun: midsummer haunts opera from the Fairy Queen to Die Meistersinger - Sarah Lenton

The Fairy Queen, Purcell’s late 17th-century fantasia on the theme of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masque or semi-opera ; the libretto being an anonymous adaptation of William Shakespeare's wedding comedy.

First performed in 1692, The Fairy-Queen was composed three years before Purcell's death at the age of 35. Following his death, the score was lost and only rediscovered early in the twentieth century.

Purcell did not set any of Shakespeare's text to music; instead he composed music for short masques in every act but the first. The play itself was also slightly modernised in keeping with seventeenth-century dramatic conventions, but generally the spoken text is as Shakespeare wrote it.

In 1842, Felix Mendelssohn composed a score to accompany stage performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The score includes the famous Overture, the beautiful Nocturne, the lively Scherzo and the well known Wedding March. Mendelssohn's purpose was to enhance the play by bringing life to the characters' actions and emotions and setting the tone for the next scene through his music.

Wagner was much influenced by the comedies of William Shakespeare and in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg- completed in 1867 - midsummer night is St. John's Night, when the goblins are up to their tricks and the fate of lovers is decided. In both works, the story revolves around a father's choice of a husband for his daughter. In Die Meistersinger, the focus is on practice of art by the craftsman, which was only a subplot for Shakespeare.
There is another analogy with A Midsummer Night's Dream in the last act, in which a play well known to the audience is ridiculously bungled.

In more recent times Benjamin Britten's opera A Midsummer Night's Dream was set to a libretto adapted by the composer and Peter Pears from Shakespeare's play. It premiered on 11 June 1960 at the Aldeburgh Festival, conducted by the composer. Subsequently the opera was performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, firstly in 1961, when it was produced by John Gielgud and conducted by Georg Solti. The image is from the Glyndebourne production in 1981.

about our lecturer:

Sarah Lenton returns to WGDFAS, having previously delighted us with her lectures on "Painting the Stage - designs, props and paintings by great artists" in 2008, and "Ninette to Nureyev: the founding of the Royal Ballet and the establishment of their unique style" in June 2011

Sarah read theology at Kings College, London and has spent her working life in the theatre, principally the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and the English National Opera . She writes programme articles, presents lectures & study days, takes backstage tours and writes and directs shows for the Linbury theatre at Covent Garden. She also gives the interval talks during live opera broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 - and has another sideline as a cartoonist!