Opera-comique in three acts
Libretto by Joseph-Bernard Rosier and Adolphe de Leuven
Sung in French with English surtitles
First performance 20 April 1850 by the Opéra-Comique at the second Salle Favart, Paris
Best remembered for his operas Mignon and Hamlet, Ambroise Thomas (1811–96) wrote around 20 works for the lyric stage, mostly forgotten – though Wexford audiences may recall his La Cour de Célimène. Premiered in Paris at the Opéra-Comique in 1850, about halfway through Thomas’s career, Le Songe d’une nuit d’été was a considerable success, and it is not hard to see why it remained popular until at least the end of the nineteenth century when The Musical Times was still describing it as ‘a little masterpiece’. Now an absolute rarity, it was however revived in Compiègne in 1994 in celebration of the opening of the Channel Tunnel.
Anyone expecting to see Oberon and Titania will be in for a surprise: Le Songe d’une nuit d’été has nothing to do with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; it is a fantasy about Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I. The librettists portray the playwright-poet sinking gradually into drunkenness and debauchery until Elizabeth is forced to remind him of his duty as England’s literary genius (‘Il faut respecter le genie qui pour toi descendit du ciel’). The third leading character is Sir John Falstaff, governor of ‘Richemont’, where the action is set. He intrudes into the story a couple of centuries out of period and the lady-in-waiting Olivia is courted by Lord Latimer but nearly loses him when Shakespeare accidentally embraces her and then has to fight the young peer. Not very Shakespearean at all … more Shakespeare in Love.
Le Songe d’une nuit d’été is an opéra comique, with spoken dialogue. The musical characterisation of Olivia has sometimes been compared with that of Mignon, which is high praise, and although the score may not contain the sort of tunes that made Mignon an undisputed hit, the music is richly melodic and full of the gentle pathos so characteristic of Thomas’s work. The woodland music in Act 2 has everything required of a work written in the middle of the Romantic century.
Previous Engagements: Set Designer (Risurrezione, Alfano, Wexford Opera Festiva, Teatro del Maggio Fiorentino; Un ballo in maschera, Verdi, Teatro Nazionale Budapest, Oviedo e Valladolid; Falstaff, Verdi, Teatro Massimo – Palermo).
Forthcoming Engagements: Set Designer (Madama Butterfly, Puccini, Rennes, Angers, Nantes; Adriana Lecouvrer, Cilea, Teatro Comunale di Bologna; La traviata, Verdi, Teatro Nazionale Vilnius).
Previous Engagements: Assistant Director (The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare, Fondazione Teatro Due – Parma; Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Monteverdi, Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg; Serpilla e Bacocco / Fidalba e Artabano, Orlandini / Ristori, Purtimiro Festival – Lugo di Romagna).
Forthcoming Engagements: Assistant Directo (Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, Händel, Fondazione Teatro Due – Parma).
Previous Engagements: Léïla (Les Pêcheurs des perles, Bizet, Teatro Regio di Torin), Norina (Don Pasquale, Donizetti, New National Theatre Tokyo), Musetta (La bohème, Puccini, Teatro Verdi di Salerno).
Forthcoming Engagements: Musetta (La bohème, Puccini, Teatro Regio di Torino), Ninette (L’amour des trois oranges, Prokofiev, Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli), Léïla (Les Pêcheurs des perles, Bizet, Teatro Colón - Buenos Aires).
Previous Engagements: Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart, Dubai Opera), Donna Anna (Don Giovanni, Mozart, La Fenice), Tatyana (Eugene Onegin, Tchaikovsky, Teatro Verdi di Trieste).
Forthcoming Engagements: Liù (Turandot, Puccini, Il maggio musicale fiorentin), Pamina (Die Zauberflöte, Mozart, Teatro San Carlo di Napoli), Musetta (La bohème, Mozart, Teatro Comunale di Bologna).
Previous Engagements: Faust (La Damanation de Faust, Berlioz, Metropolitan Opera), Maurizio (Adriana Lecouvreur, Cilea, Opéra de Marseille), Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly, Puccini, Opéra de Nantes Angers).
Forthcoming Engagements: Don José (Carmen, Bizet, Leipzig), Roméo (Roméo et Juliette, Gounod, Opéra-Théâtre de Metz Métropole), Don José (Carmen, Bizet, Seville).
Previous Engagements: Le Dancaïre (Carmen, Bizet, Sferisterio Opera Festival di Macerata), Firman-Trombest (Pietro il grande, Donizetti, Donizetti Festival di Bergamo), Fiorello (Il barbiere di Siviglia, Rossini, Opéra de Paris).
Forthcoming Engagements: Schaunard (La bohème, Puccini, Teatro Regio di Torino), Baritone (Symphony no. 9, Beethoven, Teatro delle Muse di Ancona, Teatro Rossini di Pesaro), Leporello (Don Giovanni, Mozart, Sferisterio Opera Festival di Macerata).
Previously at WFO: Zeno (La cucina, 2019), Gustave (Dinner at Eight, 2018).
Previous Engagements: Oscar (Cabaret, Kander and Ebb, Semperoper Dresden), Baritone, Trio (Trouble in Tahiti, Bernstein, Semperoper Dresden), Assistant Choreographer (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Wagner, Semperoper Dresden).