Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream captures romantic musical magic at the Colorado Music Festival on July 31.
By Natalie Clare
Shakespeare’s Hermia tells us that love looks not with the eye but with the mind. In the bard’s beloved, fanciful comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, love and dreams may be one and the same!
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with its lyrical prose and poetic sensibilities, lends itself neatly to a musical rendering. The text invites us to glimpse the lives of four Athenians, each in the throes of their own romantic woes. But comedic confusion and magical misunderstandings abound as characters Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius, and Helena experience chance encounters with the fairies of the forest — encounters that alter the course of their hearts’ desires. The play is Shakespeare’s triumphant ode to love’s potency and the playful surprises it has in store.
On stage, A Midsummer Night’s Dream unfolds against Felix Mendelssohn’s lush and romantic score. The show famously includes the composer’s “Wedding March,” which is, arguably, the de-facto music we often think of in relation to traditional ceremonies. (The piece was popularized by Princess Victoria when she wed Prince William of Prussia in 1858.)
Principal Guest Conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni will return to the Chautauqua Auditorium stage, accompanied by renowned actor John de Lancie who summons Shakespeare’s fairies, royalty, and fools in love through a dramatic reading. De Lancie is a multifaceted performer audiences will recognize from stage and screen. His film credits include The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Multiplicity, and Reign Over Me, among others. On television, he’s played as Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation and appeared in Breaking Bad, The Librarians, The West Wing, Days of Our Lives, and My Little Pony – Friendship is Magic. Actress Marnie Mosiman also contributes to the theatrics of Midsummer, and the mischievous Puck will be brought to life in a fitting manifestation of the character’s influence over the events of the play. Vocals will be sung by local performers: soprano Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson and mezzo soprano Abigail Nims, both of whom teach at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Musically, Mendelssohn’s score reflects a well-matched pairing between the Romantic composer and the dreamy world of Shakespeare’s imagination. He was inspired to compose an overture to the piece after reading the play at age 17. The overture was wildly popular and toured around Europe. Years later, at the request of Prussian King Frederick William IV, Mendelssohn wrote 14 additional pieces for a live production of the play. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is arguably his most well-loved and recognizable works, typifying the period’s expressive and passionate characteristics.
In an essay for NPR published in 2014, American conductor and violinist Marin Alsop wrote how Mendelssohn perfectly captures “the spirit and essence of Shakespeare.” She describes how well the musical marriage plays out between Shakespeare’s dancing fairies and royal court, and Mendelssohn’s moments of fanfare and whimsical interplays between strings and woodwinds. Alsop writes, “Along with music, Mendelssohn loved language and was extremely well-read. Within his deft grasp of Shakespeare, he also includes several vocal numbers in the incidental music, representing the actual voices of the fairies.”
For fans of the bard and lovers of classical music alike, A Midsummer Night’s Dream invites audiences to an enchanting musical evening.
Experience the music and magic of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for one night only at Chautauqua Auditorium on July 31. Tickets are on sale now: