Le Songe d'une nuit d'été
Opera-comique in three acts
Libretto by Joseph-Bernard Rosier and Adolphe de Leuven
Music by Ambroise Thomas
First performance 20 April 1850, Opéra-Comique, Paris.
Sung in French with English surtitles
The orchestra will be reduced to accommodate the COVID-19 safety requirements.
arranged by Andreas Luca Beraldo (*1988)
published by Cecilia Music Concept, Cologne
The title may recall A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but the libretto of this opéra-comique plays in a much subtler way. Shakespeare here is one of the characters, together with Falstaff and Queen Elizabeth I.
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.
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.
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.
The third leading character is Sir John Falstaff, Governor of ‘Richemont’ (where the action is set), intruding into the story a couple of centuries out of period. 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…
Watch & Listen
Le Songe D'Une Nuit D'Été recorded by RTÉ Culture
Discover the Repertoire
This commentary by Ian Fox and the excerpts from the opera provide background information on the composer and on opera.