Tales of Musical Midsummers Past
“…Swift as a shadow, short as any dream; brief as the lightning in the collied night…” (I.i)
Closing weekend descends upon us, and we are stunned that we are preparing to sing our last “So Happy Together!” Even though this production has moved swiftly though performance phase, we are so thrilled to have pulled off our Shakespearean musical motif with flair and sh’boom. But before we start patting ourselves on our own creative backs, we thought it might be a good idea to take a journey down a Shakespeare-inspired lane. Maybe these previous concoctions of Midsummer and music need a nod from our 60s set list as well.
Shakespeare penned MND in the 1590s and included some fairy lyrics for his flighty characters. But how long would it be before the idea of a full-fledged musical would enter the picture?
Meet Henry Purcell and his 1692 semi-opera, The Fairy Queen, which kept most of Bill’s original text but infused the play with masques to illuminate its themes of love and marriage, including one featuring the Greek goddess Hymen. Shockingly, it was widely misunderstood by Restoration Era audiences.
Unshockingly, David Garrick also had to have his operatic Midsummer say. His opera, entitled The Fairies, premiered in 1755 and featured only the storylines of the forest (sorry, Mechanicals!). All singing, all the time, there were 28 added airs, duets, and choruses in addition to the recitatively-crooned dialogue. Reception was mixed, but a publication called The Tuner deemed it “a laudable attempt to encourage native musical Productions.” (Future musical productions thank you for the vote of confidence!)
Moving forward…some midsummer trivia! Did you know that Felix Mendelssohn’s famous “Wedding March” was written in 1842 as incidental music for a German production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Writing the music to accompany this play actually spanned the composer’s entire lifetime, as he was 17 years old when he penned the overture and then completed the score a few years before his death.
Over the years, Mendelssohn’s music has also been choreographed into ballet by masters like Marius Petipa, George Balanchine, and Frederick Ashton.
Of course, in modern times, there have been a slew of looser adaptations which have woven music through the storyline of this play. Recently, the off-Broadway hit, The Donkey Show, featured the basic storyline set to 70s-era disco music, dance club style.
Which brings us to our own little corner of the Shakespearean musical anthology – an intermingling of nostalgia and poetry that has been tugging heartstrings and garnering smiles of familiarity since our opening two weekends ago. And it’s no wonder – when the cast sings about fairy tale love on summer nights in between their soliloquies and witty banter, the flow is so seamless, it’s hard to believe that infusing Midsummer with music isn’t what Shakespeare had intended all along. After all, wasn’t he the first to point out that “life could be a dream”? — T.T.