WINTER FESTIVAL: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream is as magical as Shakespeare’s comedy. Experience them together in this special theatrical presentation: actors from celebrated artistic partner The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey perform alongside Mendelssohn’s score, highlighted by the immortal “Wedding March.”
JACQUES LACOMBE conductor
THE SHAKESPEARE THEATRE OF NEW JERSEY Bonnie J. Monte, artistic director
MONTCLAIR STATE UNIVERSITY PRIMA VOCE Heather J. Buchanan, director
NEW JERSEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Shakespeare Theatre cast and creative team
Jesmille Darbouze (Helena)
Jonathan Finnegan (Francis Flute / Thisbe)
Lindsey Kyler (Hermia)
Tim Liu (Tom Snout / Wall)
Felix Mayes (Philostrate / Puck)
Quentin McCuiston (Snug / Lion)
Jackson Moran (Lysander)
James Michael Reilly (Nick Bottom / Pyramus)
Jon Sprik (Demetrius)
Ben Sterling (Theseus / Oberon)
Sarah Swift (Hippolyta / Titania)
Patrick Toon (Egeus / Peter Quince)
Samantha Reckford, costume designer
Jackie Mariani, production stage manager
Kristen Saran, wardrobe
Burke Wilmore, lighting designer
Montclair State University Soli
Friday: Victoria Joel & Christine Rauschenbach
Saturday: Karen Levandoski & Lisa Andreacchi
Sunday: Karen Levandoski & Cornelia Lotito
Compose Your Own Series of three or more concerts!
#ChoraleYou—Sat, Jan 30, after the concert
Lift your voice for the second annual #ChoraleYou—a massive “sing in” in the lobby following the concert. MSU’s Heather Buchanan will conduct a brief rehearsal and performance of Mendelssohn’s “There Shall a Star.”
The Winter Festival events are funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Jacques Lacombe's final appearance in Princeton and New Brunswick is sponsored by Bank of America.
The January 30 concert is generously sponsored by The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey.
NJSO Accents in Newark are generously sponsored by the Prudential Foundation.
BY LAURIE SHULMAN, ©2015
For these special theatrical performances, the NJSO and Music Director Jacques Lacombe welcome actors from the Orchestra’s celebrated artistic partner The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, under the direction of Bonnie J. Monte, to perform Shakespeare’s work alongside Mendelssohn’s score.
The third time the NJSO and Shakespeare Theatre collaborate will be the biggest project—this presentation will tell the full story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, using an abridged script of the play. Monte says the challenges of adapting the play to weave between and on top of Mendelssohn’s music and staging a production in which the actors have only the space between the orchestra and the edge of the stage have resulted in exciting new ideas and a unique performance experience.
She says: “It’s great for an audience to see this kind of meld, to hear the words that initially inspired the music. They can see why Shakespeare’s words led a composer to make particular parts of the music sweeping or staccato, and the actors and people who are more familiar with the actual spoken words can see how the composer’s music enhances the text that Shakespeare wrote and elevates it to a whole new kind of level. Whether people come from a more symphonic orientation or more theatrical orientation, they get to witness simultaneously how both of these art forms inform each other in a really specific way that you wouldn’t necessarily get if you were reading it one day and then listening to the music two days later. There’s a new kind of enlightenment that occurs.
“The partnership between the NJSO and Shakespeare Theatre has enhanced both institutions. These projects have been very exciting and have resulted in a kind of an artistic product that is very different for both of our art forms. It’s been a thrill to collaborate with Jacques, who has been so open and let me push the envelope in terms of how we interact with the orchestra in very different ways.”
MENDELSSOHN: Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Born: c. April 26, 1564
Died: April 23, 1616
Published: October 1600
The story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream may be best explained by dividing it into its three basic units: the Royals and the Lovers, the Mechanicals and the Fairies.
The Royals and the Lovers
As Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta prepare for their wedding, Egeus, a nobleman of the town, comes before them to seek assistance with his disobedient daughter, Hermia. Egeus wants her to marry Demetrius, but she wants to marry Lysander. According to the law of Athens, she must marry the man her father chooses or die. Theseus acknowledges that Egeus has the law on his side but offers Hermia the alternate choice of becoming a nun. Lysander and Hermia decide to run away and marry far from Athens. Before they leave, they see Helena, Hermia’s best friend, and tell her of their plans. Helena is in love with Demetrius and, in hope of proving her loyalty to him, tells him of Hermia’s escape. As Lysander and Hermia travel through the woods the following night, Demetrius attempts to track them down with the lovesick Helena close behind. While in the woods, the fairies play tricks on the young lovers. Through magic, Demetrius and Lysander both suddenly fall madly in love with Helena. This confusion leads to a quarrel that Oberon, King of the Fairies, stops. Oberon then has his henchman, Puck, restore the relationships to their rightful state: Demetrius is in love with Helena, and Lysander is in love with Hermia. When they wake the next morning, the Duke overrides the law and decides to allow Lysander and Hermia to marry. Demetrius, transformed by the evening in the woods, proclaims his renewed love for Helena. They joyously return to Athens and are married alongside Theseus and Hippolyta.
Several of the workers of Athens have decided to perform a play for the Duke on his wedding day. Peter Quince, a local carpenter, gathers the craftsmen thought best skilled to perform the play—Nick Bottom, Francis Flute, Robin Starveling, Tom Snout and Snug. Bottom, a weaver with great acting aspirations, is cast as Pyramus, a noble young warrior. Flute, a young man with a high voice, is cast as Thisbe, the girl that Pyramus loves. The group decides to rehearse in the woods outside town so they won’t be disturbed. When they meet to rehearse, they too are subjected to fairy pranks. The mischievous Puck replaces Bottom’s head with that of a donkey. This sight frightens the other craftsmen so badly that they run home to Athens, leaving Bottom alone in the forest. Titania, who has been sleeping nearby, awakes and, through a spell cast by Oberon, falls madly in love with the donkey-headed Bottom. Later, when Titania and Bottom are released from the fairy spells, Bottom believes that he has simply had a wonderful dream and rushes off to find his friends. Reunited once again, the Mechanicals hurry off to the palace and perform their play, Pyramus and Thisbe, for the Duke and Duchess.
When the play begins, Titania and Oberon, Queen and King of the Fairies, are feuding because Titania refuses to give Oberon a human child (a changeling boy) left in her care. Oberon, furious that Titania will not give him the boy, uses a magical flower to place a spell on her. The spell will make the Fairy Queen fall in love with the first creature that she sees when she wakes, no matter how hideous it might be. When she awakes, the first creature she sees is Nick Bottom, a mortal on whom Puck has placed a donkey’s head. She falls madly in love with the transformed man and orders her fairies to wait on her new love, feeding and entertaining him. Before releasing her from his spell, Oberon takes custody of the changeling boy. No longer fighting, Titania and Oberon then go with the rest of the fairies to celebrate Duke Theseus’ wedding day.
Born: February 3, 1809, in Hamburg, Germany
Died: November 4, 1847, in Leipzig, Germany
Composed: Mendelssohn wrote the overture in August 1826, adding the balance of the incidental music in 1843.
World premiere: Carl Loewe first conducted the Overture in Stettin in February 1827. The premiere of the complete incidental music took place on October 14, 1843, in Potsdam, Germany; the composer conducted.
NJSO premiere: These performances are the NJSO premiere of the complete work.
Duration: This performance will last approximately two hours.
Mendelssohn had read Shakespeare in German translation and revered him as “the most perfect poet who ever lived.” His original intent was to express the spirit of Shakespeare’s immortal comedy in a single concert movement. He was only 17 when he composed the flawless overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The rest of his incidental music did not follow until 1843, when he received a royal commission from the Prussian monarch to write music for a performance of the play at the New Palace Theater in Potsdam, outside Berlin.
We think of incidental music as an extra, added element, perhaps even non-essential. Mendelssohn and his contemporaries had a different perspective. They viewed incidental music as something that could not only enhance the spoken text, but also intensify its meaning and emotional impact. Musical accompaniment to spoken text, known as melodrama in the 19th century, was quite popular. The vocal movements help to move the plot along, while the new instrumental excerpts facilitated scene changes. Mendelssohn skillfully expanded the existing overture’s spirit and themes in the new material. The miracle of his incidental music is that it recreates the magic of Shakespeare’s play and the 1826 overture, despite the years that had elapsed since the earlier composition.
Mendelssohn’s incomparably light touch is absolutely perfect for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We have the mysterious, elfin, fairy domain of Titania and Oberon, and their minions Puck, Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed. The boisterous good nature of Bottom, Flute, Snout and their cohorts also finds its place in the score, including the braying of the ass. Mendelssohn also addresses the ultimately worthy sentiments of the Athenian nobles, Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena, and their rulers Theseus and Hippolyta. Magic and humor shine forth.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Mendelssohn’s incidental music is how succinctly he delivers both the human and supernatural elements of Shakespeare’s original. We feel how separate are the worlds of the nobility, the lovers and the peasants from the magical kingdom of Oberon and Titania. Mendelssohn brings his own magic to this score, achieving the near-impossible: enhancing Shakespeare.
Instrumentation: woodwinds and horns in pairs, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, triangle, soprano, mezzo-soprano, women’s chorus and strings.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream synopsis provided by The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.