William Shakespeare/Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy • Ein Sommernachtstraum (A Midsummer Night's Dream)
Comedy by William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
Incidental music by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809–1847)
Print program (PDF)
Henry Mason, Director
Ivor Bolton, Conductor
Jan Meier, Sets and Costumes
Mario Ilsanker, Lighting
Francesc Abós, Choreography
Michael Rotschopf, Theseus/Oberon
Karoline Eichhorn, Hippolyta/Titania
Christian Higer, Egeus
Tanja Raunig, Hermia
Daniel Jeroma, Lysander
Claudius von Stolzmann, Demetrius
Eva Maria Sommersberg, Helena
Markus Meyer, Puck
Raphael Clamer, Quince
Paul Herwig, Bottom (Pyramus)
Barbara Spitz, Snout (Wall)
Christian Graf, Flute (Thisbe)
Mathias Schlung, Snug (Lion)
Reinhold G. Moritz, Starveling (Moon)
Chiara Skerath, Fairy
Sophie Rennert, Fairy
Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg
"Vocal ensemble": Sonja Bühling, Daniela Banasová, Charlotte Brooks, Veronika Dünser, Claire Elizabeth Craig, Hannah Dahlenburg, Mirjam Engel, Regine Hangler, Dorothea Herbert, Nikola Hillebrand, Zhenyi Hou, Katrin Hubinger, Olga Levtcheva, Anna Manske, Idunnu Münch, Kim Nam Young, Maria Nazarova, Natsumi Uchi, Sonja Šarić, Bettina Schneebeli, Etelka Sellei, Mateja Sustersic, Wendy Wang, Jennifer Zein
Theseus has defeated
the Amazon queen Hippolyta in battle; now their wedding is imminent. In the flurry of activity of the last preparations for the feast, a father turns up whose daughter loves the wrong man. Hence Theseus is supposed to sentence the unruly young woman – her name is Hermia – to death. But she escapes to find her lover, Lysander, at night in the woods where he is furiously pursued both by his jilted rival and that young man’s erstwhile lover. Meanwhile a group of artisans are rehearsing a play that they want to perform on the occasion of their Duke’s wedding. Added to which, Oberon and Titania, the fairy King and Queen, are quarrelling and wily Puck haunts the place with his anarchic mischief…
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream
, Shakespeare masterfully ties together these complex layers of action to form an organic whole. But even if the comedy at first seems simple and plausible enough – on closer scrutiny it displays the complexity and ambiguity inherent only in dreams.
Or, as Italo Calvino puts it in his Invisible Cities: “Each dream is a mystery of images that disguises a yearning – or its opposite, a fear.” In the night before the wedding, when two human beings exchange their marriage vows for all eternity, fears and longings are awakened that were repressed during the day. The forest is a place of unconscious alternatives. Here the figures act out what they cannot or do not want to be in their everyday lives. The forest is ambiguous and contradictory. It contains all possibilities; it may release the dreamers confused, but with an altered consciousness.
These citizens of Athens stray through a twilight zone between sleep and wakefulness, but in fact it is only Hermia who dreams in the play – that a snake is feeding on her heart and that Lysander finds this amusing. The audience, however, experiences what happens as reality. We never doubt that these fairies, which sport unseen with mortals, truly exist. Now who is the one that truly dreams? Is it in the end, after all, we ourselves?
Perhaps every successful theatre performance is something like a collective dream. And perhaps the artisans’ presentation appears so funny to us because they have no idea how to produce this effect.
Shakespeare shows us how it works. Two lines of blank verse and an actor’s glance up at the sky are sufficient to create the illusion of moonlight; the moon itself is brought on by the audience’s imagination. The artisans resort to bringing the moon in person on to the stage.
Despite all their shortcomings we are moved not only by the solemnity of these lay actors: The story they want to tell, Ovid’s Pyramus and Thisbe, was Shakespeare’s source for Romeo and Juliet, which was also written around 1595. Hermia and Lysander’s love story has a happy ending, but tragedy is only just avoided through Theseus’s clemency. In the performance of the ‘Rude Mechanicals’, despite all its naïvety and droll humour, the possibility of a tragic ending is evoked.
Another riddle: who is this child that Titania and Oberon are quarrelling about? And is it not also a rather strange kind of “punishment” that Oberon metes out to his intractable wife – an ecstatically happy night in the arms of a potent lover, even if he is only a donkey?
In Shakespeare’s times, the fairies were regarded as cold and malicious beings that stole human babies and left changelings in their place. This “Indian boy” however seems to be very close to both Oberon’s and Titania’s heart. Might this betray a hint of yearning on the part of these cold, immortal fairies to become human – to become parents?
The play ends with Oberon and Titania blessing of the human couples: all children that will issue from these marriages will be healthy and happy. In Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s incidental music this blessing evolves into a grand, touching gesture. Elsewhere he succeeds, time and again – despite all romantic lightness – in allowing the disturbing ambiguity of the Midsummer Night’s Dream to come to the surface. The down-to-earth artisans, the whirringly perilous fairies, the emotionally shaken lovers are thus translated into sounds that convey both the burlesque drollery of the comedy and the dark mysteries of this summer night: eerie, funny.
Translated by Vera Neuroth