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Shakespeare in 19th-Century Opera

by Alina Borkowska-Rychlewska (Author)
Monographs 310 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Acknowledgements
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part I Towards Drama: Romantic Shakespeareanism and 19th-Century Opera
  • 1 In the Orbit of Harmonious Dissonance:
  • 2 Ariel Enchanted into a Gesture:
  • 3 Fear of the Unknowable:
  • 4 A Stream of Light in the Infinity:
  • 5 Hamlet Sentenced to Life:
  • 6 Eternal Beauty of a Dark Face:
  • 7 “The whole world is a grotesque”?
  • Part II Towards Theatre: Pages from the History of the Warsaw Opera
  • 8 Fight for the Original Shakespeare, the Romantic Theatre and the National Opera during the pre-November-Uprising Romanticism:
  • 9 The Romantic Aesthetics of Terror and the Cultural Categories of North and South:
  • 10 Shakespearean Passions, Contrasts and Local Colour. The Operatic Theatre in Warsaw during the Post-Uprising Revival of Shakespeare’s Plays:
  • 11 “Lyrical Drama” at the End of the Century. A New Face of a Syncretic Operatic Work:
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Introduction

Shakespeare has never left his recipients indifferent. Called by Voltaire the creator of “the shining monsters”1 and by Samuel Johnson the builder of “a mine which contains gold and diamonds in inexhaustible plenty, though clouded by incrustations, debased by impurities, and mingled with a mass of meaner minerals”2, Shakespeare has since the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries continued to astound this plays’ readers and viewers and to provoke discussions among poets and playwrights, philosophers and musicians, among artists of all kinds.

“Who is then not in this crowd?” – asked Władysław Maleszewski in Tygodnik Ilustrowany in 1869. “What does the figure of the giant mean? Where to find a place to be close to him? What thought of his to stare at to be able to start the reprimand with the new ‘I found’? How to strike a sudden spark out of his work to explode with new admiration? Let’s be humble when faced with such a master of thoughts, inspiration, sarcasm”3.

Indeed, Shakespeare has been written about by the most distinguished writers, and anybody who in the 19th century wished to record his or her thoughts on the plays of the master from Stratford needed to confront the legacy of thousands of words already devoted to him by the greatest minds of the previous decades.

Although diversified and frequently stressing various aspects of Shakespeare’s plays, the pre-Romantic and Romantic reception of Shakespeare – with names such as Johann Gottfried Herder, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, August Wilhelm Schlegel, Ludwig Tieck, Madame de Staël, Stendhal, Victor Hugo, Samuel Coleridge or Alessandro Manzoni coming to mind, to mention just a few writers, perhaps the most widely recognized and the most influential ones – shared a tendency to expose its universalist features and Shakespeare’s mastery in reflecting the truth about reality. As far as this aspect is concerned, Romantic interpreters of the Shakespearean plays had a rather unanimous stance: according to Schlegel, Hugo or Coleridge, the truth found in the works ←9 | 10→of the master from Stratford was based on the presentation of reality as a play of contrasts and as a heterogeneous and hybrid entity composed of antitheses. It is worth noting that the same constituted the basis for the creation of the world presented in the then evolving form of the Romantic drama. Hence, the Romantics strongly emphasized the coexistence in the Shakespearean plays of opposing aesthetic categories (tragic and comic elements, sophistication and commonness, buffoonery and terror) as well as the interpenetration of the real and the supernatural world and the creation of characters whose predominant feature was the complexity of their various passions.

The influence of the Shakespearean drama on the direction and character of transformations in the drama and theatre of the turn of the century and the first decades of the 19th century was especially visible in Germany. Starting with the publication of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s The Habsburg Dramaturgy (1767–1769), which opened a new chapter in the history of European drama based on the premise of the difference between German and French tastes, a lively debate among German poets, playwrights and philosophers on Shakespeare, numerous historical and aesthetic studies devoted to him as well as the first complete translations of his works by August Wilhelm Schlegel – replacing earlier attempts which had heavily altered the original – led not only to the determination of the specificity of Shakespeare’s masterpieces but also to the formulation of opinions concerning contemporary German drama and theatre and to the implementation of concrete theatrical reforms4. The fascination with the originality of the Shakespearean drama initiated in the 1770s and 1780s by the artists of the Sturm und Drang period enabled German theoreticians of drama and the theatre to clearly determine the functions and structure of new dramatic forms and to identify their most important constitutive elements, that is, among others, generic syncretism, aesthetic amorphism, the marvellous, irony, contemporaneity, national character and universalism. In the works of Herder, Goethe, Schiller, the Schlegel brothers, and later also of Tieck, Grillparzer and Heine, Shakespeare became the medium of individual aesthetic views as part of efforts undertaken to define the form of modern drama.

←10 | 11→

The beginnings of the 19th-century French experience of the Shakespearean drama were marked by the works of Madame de Staël, especially her essays De la Littérature (1800) and Germany (1813), in which Shakespeare is presented – like in Herder’s text Shakespeare (1771) – as a representative of the literature of the North, incomparable in his depictions of suffering and “the innumerable varieties of the human heart”5. Later works by Stendhal (Racine and Shakespeare, 1823) and Hugo (“Preface to Cromwell”, 1827), related mainly to guest performances of English theatrical groups in Paris and the first exposure of the French viewing public to Shakespeare’s original plays, became the manifestation of the new drama and a tool in the fight to dethrone classical tragedy on the Parisian stages. Similarly to Coleridge’s lectures in English (Biographia Literaria, 1817) or later statements of Italian, Russian and Polish poets and critics (among them Manzoni, Pushkin and Mochnacki), the French admirers of Shakespeare emphasized the values of originality, freedom, topicality and truth in the modern theatre, treating the Shakespearean method of the creation of reality through contrasts and antinomy as a perfect way of achieving them.

A closer look at the 19th-century operas, whose librettos were based on Shakespeare’s plays, proves that the operas in question were primarily an interesting reflection of the contemporary ways of reading Shakespeare. Clearly, among various approaches to the Shakespearean drama, whose traces can be noticed in the 19th-century opera theatre, the Romantic reading seems most prevalent as an interpretational key for the librettists and composers of many generations. A search within the 19th-century opera for varied Romantic contexts, references and inspirations, a tracking down of diverse oft-recurring Romantic echoes – such as concepts, imaginings, ideas, and most of all the interpretation of Shakespeare’s works informed by the Romantic thought – constitute the central axis of the present book, around which other problems addressed here will oscillate, including the relation of the librettos of the “Shakespearean” operas to their dramatic predecessors, the translation of the musicality of Shakespeare’s works into the final character of the operas based on them, the position of the operas under study here in the history of the 19th-century theatre and music, their relation to the transformations occurring at that time in the European theatre and their 19th-century reception on the basis of contemporary sources, especially press materials. The book aspires to comprehend and convey the mechanism of the functioning – and a long-term permanence – of the Romantic ←11 | 12→Shakespeareanism in the 19th century through the prism of broadly understood opera art.

The book is divided into two parts. The first of them titled “Towards Drama: Romantic Shakespeareanism and 19th-Century Opera” concentrates on eight operas: Gioachino Rossini’s Otello (1816), Carl Maria Weber’s Oberon (1826), Jacques Fromental Halévy’s The Tempest (1850), Charles Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet (1867), Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet (1868) and Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth (1847; 1865), Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893), chosen from among several dozen 19th-century opera versions of Shakespeare’s plays. The choice – which was neither easy nor obvious – was influenced by a number of factors. The first of these is a significant place of the Shakespearean plays the librettos of the operas under analysis here were based on in the Romantic reflection on drama. Another one is the representative character of the selected operas for the issues addressed in the book, such as the aesthetic syncretism of the 19th-century opera or the mixture of features characteristic of various contemporary dramatic genres and theatrical forms that can be noticed in the operas’ dramatic and musical structure (for instance, Romantic drama, magical drama [the genre known as das Zauberdrama], melodrama, pièce bien faite, feria, pantomime, and so on). An important factor informing the selection of individual operas was also their popularity on the 19th-century European theatre stages and the possibility of showing the changing character of Shakespeare’s Romantic reading thanks to the time span of individual premieres (from Rossini’s Otello in 1816 to Verdi’s Falstaff, which was staged for the first time in 1893, already at the threshold of the new century). Each chapter, concentrating on one Shakespearean play, will offer an extended commentary on the operas selected according to the criteria mentioned above, but will also include information on other 19th-century opera adaptations based on the play in question. The operas that had a bearing on the development of the opera theatre of the 19th century and that held a significant position in its history, such as, for instance, Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi (1830) or Otto Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor (1849), are worthy of a detailed consideration. Many other operas composed on the basis of other Shakespearean plays, not mentioned in this book due to their relative insignificance for or downright absence in the Romantic reflection on Shakespeare’s drama, for example Richard Wagner’s The Ban on Love, based on Measure for Measure (1834), needed to be overlooked out of necessity.

An important part of all the chapters in the first part of the book is the musicality of Shakespeare’s plays. This very broad aspect, comprehensively analysed by scholars of various generations, among others, Richmond Noble, Edward Naylor, John S. Manifold, Frederick William Sternfeld, Peter J. Seng, John Henderson ←12 | 13→Long, Winston Hugh Auden or David Lindley6, does not constitute the central part of the book but rather a starting point for other reflections on the librettos of the operas under study here and their relations to their dramatic predecessors. In this context, the following aspects will be addressed: the ways of deployment of musical inspirations present in Shakespeare’s plays by the 19th-century librettists and composers (for example, Desdemona’s willow songs in Rossini’s and Verdi’s operas, Ophelia’s songs in Thomas’s Hamlet or the elves’ lullaby for Titania in Weber’s Oberon); the reasons and consequences of the modifications introduced; as well as the validity and reasons for the rejection of musical components present in Shakespeare’s plays by some opera writers (for instance the absence of Ariel’s songs in Halévy’s The Tempest). It is only through a good familiarity with the dramatic and aesthetic functions played by musical elements in Shakespeare’s plays that these questions may be answered, enabling at the same time an inclusion of the Romantic reflection on music. It should be added at this point that there is no direct correspondence between the level of musicality in a given Shakespearean play and the number of operatic works based on it. Even though there are some examples that could seemingly corroborate such a relation (The Tempest, allegedly the most musical of all Shakespearean plays, and the high number of its operatic adaptations should be mentioned here), there are also counterexamples in the history of the opera, whereby a work virtually devoid of musical aspects became a literary basis for dozens of operatic works (the case of Romeo and Juliet)7.

←13 | 14→

One of the major reference points for the picture of Romantic Shakespeareanism in the 19th-century opera created in the first part of this book are numerous studies of the specificity, features and significance of the Shakespearean drama for the contemporary European literature and culture, published in the last decades of the 18th century and the first decades of the 19th century. The group is comprised primarily – though not exclusively – of German- and French-language texts due to their role in shaping Romantic ideas concerning dramatic art and their huge impact on European intellectual life. Undoubtedly, the following can be mentioned within this group: Herder’s essay (Shakespeare, 1771), numerous texts by Goethe, especially Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, 1796) and Shakespeare and No End (Shakespeare und kein Ende, 1813–1816), August Wilhelm Schlegel’s Viennese lectures on dramatic art and literature (Vorlesungen über dramatische Kunst und Literatur, 1809–1811), Tieck’s works, especially Shakespeare’s Treatment of the Marvellous (Über Shakespeare’s Behandlung des Wunderbaren, 1793) and Remarks on Some Characters in Hamlet (Bemerkungen über einige Charaktere im “Hamlet”, 1826), Madame de Staël’s texts: De la Littérature (1800) and Germany (De l’Allemagne, 1813), Stendhal’s study Racine and Shakespeare (1823) and Victor Hugo’s manifesto “Preface to Cromwell” (La Préface de Cromwell, 1827). Even though a direct impact of theoretical statements by thinkers of late German Enlightenment, Weimar Classicism and German and French Romanticism on the formation processes of the 19th-century “Shakespearean” operas is in the majority of cases impossible to prove (the exceptions are Verdi’s operas, for his correspondence corroborates his familiarity with the contemporary interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays), one can see the reflection of these ideas in the operatic works, thus confirming the vitality of the pre-Romantic and Romantic discussion on Shakespeare in the 19th-century European culture.

The second part of the book titled “Towards Theatre: Pages from the History of the Warsaw Opera” comprises four chapters devoted to, respectively, Rossini’s Otello, Verdi’s Macbeth, Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet, and Verdi’s Otello and Thomas’s Hamlet, analysed within one chapter on account of the proximity of their premieres. The imbalance between the first and the second part of the book stems from a simple reason: not all of the operas discussed in the first part were ←14 | 15→staged in the Warsaw theatres in the 19th century. Weber’s Oberon, Halévy’s The Tempest and Verdi’s Falstaff were staged neither by the Polish operatic troupes nor by foreign artists visiting Warsaw with their guest performances. This notwithstanding, due to the regularity of the breaks between one and another and a significant time span, the Polish premieres of the operas discussed in the second part of the book – in 1828 (Rossini’s Otello), 1849 (Verdi’s Macbeth), 1869 (Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet), 1893 (Verdi’s Otello) and 1895 (Thomas’s Hamlet) – enable a comprehensive overview of the 19th-century reception of the “Shakespearean” operas in the Warsaw theatre, an analysis of their stage history and a reconstruction of the debates on Shakespeare’s drama among the 19th-century Warsaw theatrical and musical critics, the influence of the Shakespearean plays on the evolution of drama in the 19th century and the ways and methods of their adaptation for the opera theatre. A search for the traces and echoes of the Romantic Shakespeareanism within this debate, which changed its course and discourse over the decades, turns out to be intriguing – to say the least – on account of the specificity of the 19th-century Polish theatrical stages and criticism, fraught with numerous difficulties, for examples those of censorship.

It needs to be added at this point that the phenomenon of the operatic Shakespeareanism and its multi-dimensional evolution in the 19th-century Polish theatre could only be analysed with reference to the Warsaw stage. It was only in Warsaw that various adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays were staged regularly throughout the century, from before the November Uprising of 1830-31 to the end of the century. In other cities – in Lviv, Cracow or Poznan – the “Shakespearean” operas were typically not staged at all, sometimes only their fragments were played during musical concerts, while the premieres of the whole operas took place in the final years of the 19th century or already in the 20th century. For example in Lviv, the place on whose theatrical map the Shakespearean plays held a major position in the 19th century (which will be repeatedly stressed within the present book), operatic adaptations of Shakespeare’s masterpieces were very rare and always surfaced later than in Warsaw. Gounod’s opera on Romeo and Juliet, with the libretto translated by Leopold Matuszyński, premiered in Lviv on 10 March 1891, Verdi’s Otello was staged at the turn of the century (with its premiere on 17 March 1900), while Thomas’s Hamlet was presented for the first time already in the 20th century, on 22 March 19048. Before that, ←15 | 16→fragments of the “Shakespearean” operas sometimes appeared on the program of the Lviv theatre alongside other plays, for example one scene from Romeo and Juliet was played on New Year’s Eve in 1878 together with the first act of Jacques Offenbach’s The Beautiful Helen and individual scenes of several famous operas (among others A Masked Ball and The Haunted Manor)9. To give a different example, individual arias of Verdi’s Macbeth accompanied a single-act play of Roderich Benedix titled Broń niewieścia [Doctor Wespe] on 25 April 188710. On account of the scarcity of the exemplifying material, scattered comments in the second part of the book on some stage productions of “Shakespearean” operas outside Warsaw will serve as a necessary addition, an element of the background crucial for the creation of a complete picture of the evolution of the operatic Shakespeareanism in the Polish theatre of the 19th century, and not as a central and pronounced component of this picture.

The place held by the operatic versions of Othello, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet in the history of the Warsaw theatre and their critical reception were to a large extent conditioned by their relations to the stage history of their dramatic predecessors. For this reason, an important reference point and backdrop for the reconstruction of the premieres of the operas and the press debates surrounding them would be a briefly-sketched history of the stage productions of Shakespeare’s plays in Warsaw (and in some justified cases also outside the capital), mentioning the diversity of individual versions and the transformations of various provenance. It turns out that Shakespeare’s masterpieces in their operatic garb played an important role as weapons in the pre-November Uprising fight of the critics for Romantic drama and theatre (Rossini’s Otello), in the mid-century they brought back to life the Romantic reflection on the specificity of the literature of the North and the South (Verdi’s Macbeth), while at the end of the century they imbued the concepts of originality and local colour with new meanings (Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet) and constituted an attempt at redefining musical lyricism (Verdi’s Otello). Without a doubt, the history of the “operatic Shakespeare” in the 19th-century Warsaw theatre and its constitutive element in the form of theatrical and musical critical reflection on the plays of the master from Stratford and their musical incarnations are part of the fascinating history of the Warsaw stage.

←16 | 17→

On a separate page added to the completed musical score of Falstaff, Giuseppe Verdi wrote his paraphrase of a fragment of the opera’s libretto, expressing his wish for his work to embark on its own stage existence:

Le ultime note del Falstaff. Tutto e finito. Va, va, vecchio John, cammina per la tua via finche tu puoi. Divertente tipo di briccone; eternamente fiero, sotto maschera diversa, in ogni tempo, in ogni luogo! Va… Va… Cammina, cammina… Addio!

[The last notes of Falstaff. All is finished. Go, go, old John, follow your way as long as you can. A funny type of clown; always proud under the changing mask, at every time, in every place! Go, go… Walk away… Goodbye!]

Not wishing to compare this book to Verdi’s masterpiece and only willing to endow it with meaning and vitality, it feels appropriate to repeat after the master: “Andate, andate, tutte le parole, camminate per la vostra via!” [“Go, go, all the words, follow your own way!”]. A justification of this desire for repetition is a strong conviction that Shakespeare, including the operatic Shakespeare, can be thought about, spoken about and written about – to boldly paraphrase Goethe – without end (“und kein Ende”).

←17 |
 18→←18 | 19→

1 Voltaire, Letters on the English: Letter XVIII – On tragedy, The Harvard Classics, v. 34, part 2, New York 1909–14, p. 53.

2 S. Johnson, “Preface to Shakespeare”, in The Works of Samuel Johnson, v. II containing philological tracts, London 1820, p. 106.

3 W. Maleszewski, “Kilka myśli o Szekspirze”, Tygodnik Ilustrowany 29 March 1869, n. 65, p. 151.

4 M. Leyko, “Tieck, Shakespeare i teatr niemiecki”, in L. Tieck, O cudowności u Shakespeare’a i inne pisma krytyczne, translated, edited and with an introduction by M. Leyko, Gdańsk 2006, pp. 5–7. Unless an existing English translation is referenced in footnotes, the translation into English of texts originally written in other languages is based on their Polish translation given in the footnotes.

5 A.L.H. De Staël Holstein, Germany, with Notes and Appendices by Orlando Williams Wight, v. I, New York 1864, p. 287.

6 Cf. e.g.: R.S.H. Noble, Shakespeare’s Use of Songs: With the Text of the Principal Songs, Oxford 1923; E.W. Naylor, Shakespeare and Music: With Illustrations from the Music of the 16th and 17th Centuries, London 1931; J.S. Manifold, The Music in English Drama: From Shakespeare to Purcell, London 1956; F.W. Sternfeld, The Use of Songs in Shakespeare’s Tragedies, London 1959; F.W. Sternfeld, Music in Shakespearean Tragedy, London 1963; P.J. Seng, The Vocal Songs in the Plays of Shakespeare: A Critical History, Massachusetts 1967; J.H. Long, Shakespeare’s Use of Music, vol. I–III, Gainesville 1955–1971; W. H. Auden, “Music in Shakespeare”, in The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays, New York 1962, pp. 500–527; D. Lindley, Shakespeare and Music, London 2006. I will repeatedly refer to the above-mentioned studies throughout the book.

7 It needs to be added at this point that there have been many scholarly studies of musical compositions inspired by the Shakespearean drama, especially within studies of individual composers, whose oeuvres included works based on Shakespeare’s plays. Due to a huge number of musical interpretations of individual Shakespearean plays in the history of opera or – more broadly – the history of music, it is impossible to create within this brief introduction even a list of the most important works. Book-length studies of the musicality of Shakespeare’s works that are worth mentioning here include: Shakespeare in Music: Essays by J. Stevens, Ch. Cudworth, W. Dean, R. Fiske. With a Catalogue of Musical Works, London 1964; G. Schmidgall, Shakespeare and Opera, Oxford 1990; A. Graham, Shakespeare in Opera, Ballet, Orchestral Music and Song, New York 1997; and J. Sanders, Shakespeare and Music: Afterlives and Borrowings, Cambridge 2007.

8 Cf. B. Maresz, M. Szydłowska, Repertuar teatru polskiego we Lwowie 1886–1894, Cracow 1993, p. 182; Repertuar teatru polskiego we Lwowie 1894–1900, Cracow 2005, p. 209; and Repertuar teatru polskiego we Lwowie: Teatr Miejski pod dyrekcją Tadeusza Pawlikowskiego. 1900–1906, Cracow 2005, p. 123.

9 Cf. A. Marszałek, Repertuar teatru polskiego we Lwowie 1875–1881, Cracow 1992, p. 130.

10 Cf. B. Maresz, M. Szydłowska, Repertuar teatru polskiego we Lwowie 1886–1894, p. 39.

1 In the Orbit of Harmonious Dissonance: Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Carl Maria Weber’s Oberon

Shakespeare’s comedies – especially A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest – attracted the attention of the Romantics primarily due to their inextricable combination of jest and seriousness and to the construction of the world based on the supernatural. The fantastic world created by Shakespeare constituted the essence of the Romantic ideas concerning the character of reality composed of heterogeneous, interpenetrating beings and the belief in the presence of supernatural powers hidden in nature. The Romantic interpretation of the supernatural in Shakespeare’s comedies, read primarily through the prism of their power of affecting the imagination, was not the same as the reception of the fantastic in Shakespeare’s tragedies. The difference was presented lucidly by Ludwig Tieck in his study Shakespeare’s Treatment of the Marvellous [Über Shakespeare’s Behandlung des Wunderbaren, 1793]. As Tieck saw it, in his tragedies, the author of Macbeth construed supernatural elements on the basis of fear and terror, “keeping them in a terrifying distance, surrounded by an inscrutable veil which repels the sight of the mortals”11. In his comedies, by contrast, Shakespeare created the fantastic world of “alluring images” and “pleasant pictures”, not generating in the reader a feeling of upsetting distance and this way introducing him or her to the world of magic. “We bravely approach the amiable and solemn characters that do not threaten us”12, wrote Tieck in Shakespeare’s Treatment of the Marvellous. A Romantic view on the fantastic world of Shakespeare’s comedies did not thus lead to the reflection on the impenetrable secret of the universe, but primarily to the reflection on the possibility of the harmonious coexistence of beings and – in the context of the stage existence of the play – on the specificity of the creation of illusion. According to Tieck, one of the basic procedures for the creation of the supernatural world’s elusive character in Shakespearean plays was the introduction of musical elements. He argued that “Shakespeare ←21 | 22→wins our belief in his magic with a trick fully mechanical, namely through m u s i c”13.

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a perfect illustration of these observations. In this comedy of the frenzy of a June night, in which – as August Wilhelm Schlegel put it in his Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature – “the extremes of fanciful and vulgar”14 are connected, music indeed constitutes an inseparable element of the play. Shakespeare contained in the structure of his play many specific musical forms – songs, choir parts, and dances – but he also indicated the musical instruments, whose selection has an important significance for the interpretation of individual scenes, he multiplied the sounds of nature and structured the mutual relations of characters according to a clearly determined rhythm. These procedures testify to and stem from a well thought-out strategy. The Stratford master made use not only of the ornamental function of music, which was conventionally taken advantage of within the Elizabethan theatre (allowing for the mixture of dialogues and musical fragments in response to the expectation of the viewers), but first and foremost he made music an important element of the composition of the whole play and an integral part of the plot evolving on two planes: the earthly and the supernatural ones.15

Out of all musical forms Shakespeare employed in his plays, songs are clearly of primary importance. A Midsummer Night’s Dream also contains a rich repertoire of songs. As Winston Hugh Auden aptly noted, songs appear in Shakespeare either as spontaneous improvisation or as a response to the listeners’ requests, in both cases playing a different dramaturgic role16. An example of the second type is the Fairies’ lullaby for Titania, sung in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the direct request of the Queen. A simple song, seemingly serving only to put Titania ←22 | 23→to sleep and halt the action, is at the same time a veiled picture of the reality construed in the play:

FIRST FAIRY:

You spotted snakes, with double tongue,

Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen;

Newts and blind worms, do no wrong;

Come not near our Fairy Queen.

CHORUS:

Philomel with melody

Sing in our sweet lullaby;

Lulla, lulla, lullaby; lulla, lulla, lullaby.

Never harm,

Nor spell nor charm,

Come our lovely lady nigh.

So good night, with lullaby.

FIRST FAIRY:

Weaving spiders, come not here;

Hence, you long-legged spinners, hence.

Beetles black, approach not near;

Worm nor snail do no offence.

CHORUS:

Philomel, with melody etc.

(Scene 4)17

According to the text of the lullaby, dream is to enshroud the sleeper in a veil of calm and to protect her from the cacophony of sound (for example, the hissing of “snakes with double tongue”), but also, more importantly, to save her from the evil hidden in nature (“blind worms” and “thorny hedgehogges”). It is a charm-song, yet it should be noted that the spell has power solely over the real world. As a result of the elves’ singing, a cloak of safety covers Titania, but it is an incomplete cloak, which will protect her from evil personified by wild animals and birds but which will not prevent Oberon from casting a spell over Titania. What is more, it is the depth of Titania’s dream that will enable the King of the Fairies to realize his plan. It is worth mentioning that the text of the lullaby indicates the Fairies’ awareness of the fact that the peacefulness of the Queen’s dream is illusory. Juxtaposed with the clamorous night birds, the nightingale Philomel ←23 | 24→that sings the “sweet lullaby” harks back to the cruel history of the mythological princess Philomela, who was taken advantage of by Theseus and turned into a nightingale. The sweetness of Philomela’s song is treacherous, and the elves’ song likewise reeks of falsehood. The Fairies’ song as a conveyor of double-edged messages becomes a symbol of the duality of the elves’ nature and a sign of the existence of a clear boundary between the real world – which is obedient to the magical power of music – and the supernatural world – which is in control of music. This distinctiveness of the two worlds, made visible by the functions music plays in them, is depicted in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a consistent manner. In Scene Five, just like the Fairies singing the lullaby before, Oberon and Titania use music to direct the events along the intended route. Unlike in the case of the lullaby, however, music shows here its healing potential: it breaks the spell on the senses of the craftsmen (the word “fine” is used in Shakespeare’s text in the meaning of the contemporary word “to refine”: to cleanse the senses of hallucinations). Depending on the intention and decision of a person from the supernatural world, music shows its hallucinatory or healing potential, it can serve as a medium of opposing values: it has the power to destroy or to restore harmony and order. This way, the real world becomes subjected to the supernatural world through music; music makes the former’s matter more pliable and more conducive to being controlled.

Indicating the position of music in the reality governed by two orders – the real and the supernatural ones – Shakespeare made an extremely original contribution to the Renaissance reflection on music. It should be recollected at this point that during the Elizabethan period, the Pythagorean/Plutonian conception of the musical universe had a tremendous bearing on the way the essence of music was comprehended. Dozens of scholarly works and numerous literary works written at that time reflected this understanding of music, one the most beautiful examples of the latter group of texts being Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. The thesis that the heavens consist of crystal balls put into motion by angels and emitting harmonious sounds is poetically expressed by Shakespeare’s Lorenzo:

LORENZO:

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!

Here we will sit, and let the sounds of music

Creep in our ears. Soft stillness, and the night

Become the touches of sweet harmony.

Sit, Jessica.

[They sit]

Look how the floor of heaven

←24 |
 25→

Is thick inlaid with patens of bright gold.

There’s not the smallest orb, which thou behold’st

But in his motion like an angel sings,

Still choiring to the young-eyed cherubins.

Such harmony is in immortal souls;

But, whilst this muddy vesture of decay

Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.

(V, 1)

The final thought of the excerpt is most crucial here: music exists in the universe independently of a human being, who is not even able to hear it. According to the ancient interpreters of the thesis of the spheres’ perfect harmony, people may only make deductions on the basis of their knowledge of mathematical proportions or their awareness of their own inner rhythms (that is, musicae humanae), which echo musicae mundanae. This way of thinking was continued during the Renaissance, as corroborated by essays of Gioseff Zarlin, a proponent of cosmic harmony in its classical form18. Shakespeare’s differentiation of the supernatural and the real world in A Midsummer Night’s Dream through a sort of “musical power” possessed by the former but not by the latter seems a veiled picture of the Renaissance notion of the musical cosmos, not expressed as clearly and directly as in The Merchant of Venice, but very original nonetheless. The feeling that Shakespeare consciously deploys the concept of the music of the spheres in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is confirmed by Oberon’s words to Titania:

OBERON:

Then, my queen, in silence sad,

Trip we after the nightës shade;

We the globe can compass soon,

Swifter than the wand’ring moon.

(Scene 5)

←25 | 26→

and by the Fairy’s words:

FAIRY:

I do wander everywhere

Swifter than the moonës sphere (…)

(Scene 3)

The words “moonës sphere” explicitly refer to the theory of the musical cosmos, for the moon’s sphere indicates the smallest and fastest link in the system of crystal balls connected through the harmony of tones. The fantastic figures of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, moving through the sky “swifter than the moonës sphere”, are poetically contained here in the musical order of heavenly forces. In this context, their power of impact over human beings and nature through music was justified by the Renaissance musical thought and hence legible to the Elizabethan viewing public19.

The duality of the universe emphasized through music is illustrated in many other ways in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Nature is an important locus of the contact and mutual influence of the real and supernatural powers in the world created by Shakespeare. A great example of this relation is Oberon’s tale on the mermaid’s singing, which silences sea waves and removes stars from their regular routes:

OBERON:

Since once I sat upon a promontory

And heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back

Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath

That the rude sea grew civil at her song

And certain stars shot madly from their spheres

To hear the sea-maid’s music?

(Scene 3)

Probably alluding to Shakespeare’s memory of the celebrations prepared in Kenilworth in 1575 for Queen Elizabeth (the viewers remembered primarily a giant, twenty-four-feet-long dolphin, emerging from the lake and carrying on its ←26 | 27→back an actor dressed as Arion – a Greek poet and bard known from legends20), these perfectly harmonious verses reflect not only the conviction of an extraordinary power of the elements subjected to supernatural powers. Oberon’s retrospective vision also aptly points out the primary feature of a song (or, even more broadly, of music), namely, the ability to simultaneously create order and induce acts of madness. This incongruence shows the belief in a tremendous power of art, whose essence lies in its multi-dimensionality and the ambivalence of its influence. As Stephen Greenblatt aptly concludes: “This paradox – art as the source both of settled calm and of deep disturbance – was central to Shakespeare’s entire career”21.

Nature is revealed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream also through completely real, earthly sounds, severed from the supernatural world. A good example of this is Hippolyta and Theseus’s tale of the hunting, during which “hounds and echo in conjunction” result in “musical a discord”. Reality is depicted here through disharmony, but a disharmony which is harmonious (to use an oxymoron that may seem surprising at first), a “musical” and “sweet” disharmony. The harmony that allows one to find some order in the chaos of sounds is based on mutuality (in this case of the hounds’ barking and its echo affecting woods, rivers and the whole nature):

THESEUS:

We will, fair Queen, up to the mountain’s top

And mark the musical confusion

Of hounds and echo in conjunction.

HIPPOLYTA:

(…) never did I hear

Such gallant chiding; for, besides the groves,

The skies, the mountains, every region near,

Seemed all one mutual cry. I never heard

So musical a discord, such sweet thunder.

(Scene 5)

This intriguing fragment of A Midsummer Night’s Dream may include a vital thesis, mentioned as if in passing, that the chaos of the real world (that is a world other than the supernatural one, whose realm is the harmony of the spheres) may be overcome if one sees the proper arrangement of mutual relations of antinomic powers. An attempt to create harmony in the real world does not then ←27 | 28→mean standardization, the linking of similarities, or the creation of univocal, transparent orders, but it denotes a search for meaning in the juxtaposition of opposites. Shakespeare subtly expresses here a thought that is close to the Romantic world-view, particularly strongly emphasized in Victor Hugo’s theoretical statements on the Romantic drama, based on the works of the author of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. According to the author of Cromwell, Romantic poetry should follow the example of nature and mingle and juxtapose seemingly antinomic particles, but not melt them:

Then it is that, with its eyes fixed upon events that are both laughable and redoubtable (…) poetry will take a great step, a decisive step, a step which, like the upheaval of an earthquake, will change the whole face of the intellectual world. It will set about doing as nature does, mingling in its creations – but without confounding them – darkness and light, the grotesque and the sublime; in other words, the body and the soul, the beast and the intellect (…)22.

Music in A Midsummer Night’s Dream aids Shakespeare also in indicating the characters’ personalities, predilections and class membership. Bottom, who wishes to listen to “the tongs and the bones”, thus reveals his uncouthness, his lack of knowledge concerning musical instruments and a specific understanding of music as sounds emitted by primitive tools and bones23. At another point Bottom uses song as a sing of courage: “I will sing, that they shall hear I am not afraid”. However, the song that is to testify to lack of fear merely constitutes a catalogue of small chirping birds; instead of confirming Bottom’s courage, it has a comic effect unintended by him.

Shakespeare found the musical potential that makes it possible to describe the created world or individual characters not only in natural sounds or vocal parts but also in dance forms. This is manifested most fully in the Fairies’ dances recurring repeatedly in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The fairy speaks of the elves’ habit of dances on the grass in the initial part of Scene Three:

FAIRY:

And I serve the Fairy Queen,

To dew her orbs upon the green.

←28 | 29→

The word “orbs” used here denotes in folk thought a circular place of the fairies’ dances, covered with fresh grass despite the dancers’ steps24. Many other excerpts of A Midsummer Night’s Dream testify to the elves’ predilection for dancing in places that have a circular shape. Titania asks for a lullaby using the following words: “now a roundel and a fairy song”, indicating the type of both the dance and the song that the elves are to perform. It is the only place in the whole play that deploys the word “roundel”, which is a musical term. In all the other fragments referring to the elves’ dance, Shakespeare uses the word “a round”, which signals the way of dancing (that is, around), but does not connote other meanings related to musical terminology. As a consequence, the lullaby sung by the elves is organized as a roundel, understood here in the way typical of Shakespeare’s times, that is as a monophonic dance song with a chorus, known also as a “rondellus” and created in the medieval France. What is also noteworthy is the similarity of the elves’ song to the literary form of the roundel, visible in its length of fifteen verses and the repetition of the chorus (the difference being that the chorus does not repeat the initial words of the first verse but of verses 5–8). Possibly, Titania’s clear indication of a concrete vocal and dance form constituted a staging suggestion: ballet parts should be performed at this point of the play25. In all the other cases when the word “a round” appears, the necessity of using a concrete textual form or introducing ballet on the stage is not as clearly signalled. This does not mean, however, that the word is used haphazardly, as it fulfils a different function: the elves’ dances in a circular fashion contribute to their intricate creation as characters. The Fairies can beguile, delude and lead astray with their dances as with their songs (“I’ll follow you, I’ll lead you about a round”, claims Puck). The shape of the circle symbolizes in this case a constant deception, a never-ending beguilement.

The gravity of the semantics of music in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is emphasized in the final scene of the play. Shakespeare uses the motif of dance in the endings of several of his plays (also in Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It), which – when put alongside his tendency to end a play with a song (The New Inn, Twelfth Night) or a march (King Lear, Hamlet, Coriolanus)26 – seems to be a part of a transparent dramatic and staging strategy. The ending’s ←29 | 30→musicality was probably supposed to make the spectacle more attractive, but at the same time it emphasized the essence of music as a medium for conveying the major ideas of the play. The ending of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is composed of two dances – the dance of the craftsmen and the dance of the Fairies connected by a wedding hymn (“Ditty”), sung by Oberon with the accompaniment of the elves’ choir. Announced by Bottom as “a Bergomask dance”, the craftsmen’s performance is typically interpreted in a comic fashion (on account of the name Bergamo, a village in Italy, whose culture spawned some comic traditions). The name “Bergomask” could also justify the interpretation of the craftsmen’s dance as an antimasque anticipating the Fairies’ dance, which shows a huge similarity to the form of masque27. It seems worthy of note in this context that the contrast between these two dances constitutes the musical essence of the idea and structure of the whole play. The web of contrasts presented in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is after all composed of relations between the two worlds, the real and the fantastic one, and the plot consistently evolving on several planes. The complexity of the play’s structure is further intensified due to the fact that the craftsmen’s “Bergomask” is performed as the climax of their play and thus – according to the principle of theatre within theatre – it belongs to a different stage plane than the final dance of the elves. Alongside its ornamental and spectacular function, the dance polyphony presented at the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream first and foremost stresses the dramatic polyphony of the play itself.

The musicality of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is completed by its inner rhythm, which constitutes the basis for the included vocal and dance forms but which also clarifies the mutual relations between characters, expressed through dialogue and stage movement. Perhaps the most interesting example of this inner rhythm is the scene of Titania and Oberon’s first encounter. As made clear by stage directions, the King of the Fairies enters with his entourage from one side, while Queen Titania enters from the opposite side. Approaching each other, they exchange a few brief statements full of malice. This element of radical confrontation brings to mind a stage situation of attack and counterattack, typical of the form of the English masque28. The arrangement of Oberon and Titania’s ripostes and their accompanying steps creates a semantic and stage figure reflecting a ←30 | 31→dance based on the confrontation of two opposing elements29. It is yet another example of how a creative deployment of a musical element – here the rhythm of expressions and gestures – enabled Shakespeare to emphasize the contrasts governing the essence of the depicted world.

Composers could obviously not remain indifferent to such a great musical element in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Music writers of many epochs frequently and regularly made use of this Shakespearean play, but it is songs, nocturnes and overtures that are the most prevalent among its musical adaptations. There have been over a dozen operas depicting the travails of the lovers and elves experiencing June night’s fever30, yet only two are worth mentioning: Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen (premiere: London 1692) and Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (premiere: Aldeburgh 1960). The 19th-century Fairy Queen, a semi-opera based on the remake of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Elkanah Settle31 and somewhat distant from the Shakespearean original because of it, is a five-act allegorical work of an impressive scope that includes great dramatic fragments and virtually perfect instrumental fragments32. Unlike Purcell’s composition, which uses verses from Shakespeare’s comedy verbatim33, Britten’s opera, with the libretto written by the composer himself in collaboration with Peter Pears, perfectly captures the contrasts between the etheric world of the elves and the grotesquely treated world of the four Athenian lovers, and emphasizes the universality of the moral problems addressed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream34.

In the 19th century only two operas were directly based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Giuseppe Manusardi’s Un sogno di primavera (premiere: Milan 1842), termed by the composer a melodramma comico, and Franz von Suppé’s Der Sommernachtstraum (premiere: Vienna 1844)35, which were soon removed ←31 | 32→from the programme and remain mere entries in the annals of the opera. A more permanent place in the history of dramatic-musical theatre is held by two other 19th-century compositions linked with Shakespeare’s masterpiece: stage music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream composed by Felix Mendelssohn (op. 61; 1842) and Carl Maria Weber’s Oberon (premiere: London 1926), with the libretto inspired by Christoph Wieland’s poem, using only some motifs present in Shakespeare’s play. In both cases it is unquestionable than the musicality of the literary predecessor had a significant bearing on their dramatic and ideological shape, which is worthy of a more detailed analysis.

In 1826 the seventeen-year-old Felix Mendelssohn composed the overture to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Seventeen years later he wrote music for the whole comedy. Then, Mendelssohn made use of his youthful composition and joined the ranks of 13 compositions inspired by Shakespeare’s play. Enjoying great success since its first performances, Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream is considered to this day a perfect example of the fusion of dramatic text and stage music, alongside Goethe’s Egmont, with music composed by Ludwig van Beethoven. Mendelssohn used musical inspirations included in Shakespeare’s play in two ways. First of all, he accepted the playwright’s straightforward directions, composing songs and choir pieces that corresponded to concrete forms Shakespeare interweaves in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What is way more interesting, however, is Mendelssohn’s usage of indirect musical inspirations that the comedy on Oberon and Titania abounds in. The composer transposed Shakespeare’s play of contrasts onto his own composition in a masterful way. His musical score respects the web of contrasts, differentiating the world of fantastic beings and earthly characters with the language of music. Four light cords in the higher registers of brass instruments introduce one to the etheric space of the elves already in the first bars of the overture, which is later contrasted with the lightweight theme related to the group of crude craftsmen. The real world is also polarized by inner contrasts: the composer juxtaposes the joyful performance of the craftsmen with the lyricism of intimate feelings of the couples in love. It seems that it is the connection of music with love that can yield in Shakespeare’s comedy most subtle, indirect suggestions to the composer. Sweet sounds bespeak of an arousing feeling and are a sensual magnet: Lysander wins ←32 | 33→Hermia’s heart with his singing, and Titania falls in love with Bottom under the influence of his song (“Mine ear is much enamour’d of thy note” – she says). As a consequence of the multiplicity of Shakespeare’s suggestions, lyrical elements predominate in the major theme of Mendelssohn’s overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and later in the reworked final wedding march. Thanks to this frame, the composer conveyed the thought expressed in Shakespeare’s play that music as a sign and essence of feeling initiates and guarantees a return to the full harmony of the world.

Mendelssohn adapted the musicality of A Midsummer Night’s Dream also within the form of the composition’s individual parts. A telling example would be the nocturne, whose name deriving from the French nocturne or Italian notturno (that is nocturnal) seems a silent order to make use of the form to illustrate the comedy taking place during a summer night, at the threshold of reality and dream. Mendelssohn was not the only composer to use the nocturne in stage music; the form appeared also, for instance, in Berlioz’s opera Beatrice and Benedick and in Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe. The use of scherzo is noteworthy as well; in this case it is a cheerful scherzo, which enabled Mendelssohn to signal the specificity of the world of fantastic creatures construed by Shakespeare, their dialogues and, most importantly, their dances.

The route of the influences A Midsummer Night’s Dream exerted on the imagination of the 19th-century composers leads to a work that is especially characteristic of the aesthetics of the Romantic theatre, namely Carl Maria Weber’s Oberon. The opera was written at the request of Covent Garden in London and staged there for the first time on 12 April 1826. The opera’s libretto was based on the 13th-century French romance Huon de Bordeaux and a Romantic poem by Christoph Martin Wieland, who was himself a translator of Shakespeare’s plays into German. Wieland’s Oberon, written in 1780, is not a poetic reworking of Shakespeare’s comedy, though; it is linked to A Midsummer Night’s Dream practically only through its borrowing of the figures of the King and Queen of the Fairies and the loyal fairy Puck. Wieland’s inspiration with Shakespeare’s play may be sought beyond the plot of the poem, however, in the theme of love and faithfulness and in a series of incidents caused by the interference of fantastic characters in the actions of real-world figures. Weber’s Oberon, by contrast, has much stronger links to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream due to its verbal and musical structural complexity, even though the libretto written by James Robinson Planché emulates the fictional pattern of Wieland’s poem.

In one of the letters Weber wrote to his librettist during the work on Oberon, the composer emphasized the stylistic difference between English and German opera, concluding that “the English opera is rather a play with songs”. Planché ←33 | 34→was writing the libretto in accord with the rules of the 19th-century English opera theatre, interweaving long dialogues with musical parts. Such a structure was naturally a result of the influence of the 17th-century semi-operas (that is operas with spoken dialogues) of Henry Purcell and of the ballet opera. The form based on this model showed some similarity to the structure of German Singspiel, hence the close correspondence of Weber’s Oberon to Mozart’s The Magic Flute and The Abduction from the Seraglio – one of the greatest realizations of the form – should not come as a surprise. Apart from formal connections, the affiliation of these works is strengthened on a symbolic level through, for example, the magical power of the instruments (the horn in Oberon and the flute and small bells in The Magic Flute) and the construction of two couples in love as allegories of different ways of loving (Huon – Rezia and Sherasmin – Fatima; Tamino – Pamina and Papageno – Papagena, respectively).

These interdependences lead to yet another aspect of the relation between Oberon and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It needs to be remembered that the structure of Purcell’s semi-operas (close to the German Singspiel), which the libretto of the opera about Huon and Rezia was based on, derived from the masque tradition; thus, Weber and Planché’s text is the heir of this tradition. The close connection of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the form of the masque, mentioned above, allows one to conclude that the structures of Weber’s opera and Shakespeare’s comedy have a common source, and the links between the spoken, vocal and dance parts of the two form a clear parallel.

The structure of the mutual relations of Oberon and A Midsummer Night’s Dream is based also on the way music and dream are linked. It is not a coincidence that Weber’s opera begins with the scene of the sleeping Oberon. The choir of the elves sing a song above him, which to a large extent resembles the lullaby for Titania in Shakespeare’s comedy, for the elves wish to protect their King – just like the fairies from Titania’s entourage do – from external noise:

All too loud the fountain play,

All too loud the Zephyrs sigh!

Chase the noisy gnat away!

Keep the bee from humming by!

(Act I, Introduction)36

←34 | 35→

The peacefulness of the sleeping Oberon, just like that of the Shakespearean Titania, is only an illusion. The Fairies’ King fell asleep after a violent quarrel with Titania; sleep did not bring him comfort but only intensified his anger, as corroborated by the words he utters after waking up (“Still I burn and still I languish!/Doubled in my dream I feel/all my rage and all my anguish,/but no balm their wounds to heal”). The elves’ song, a barrier separating Oberon from the tumult of the real world, does not nullify the passions boiling inside him. The relief brought by the sweet melody of the Fairies’ song is only partial, and thus unsatisfactory and illusory. The viewers learn this only when Oberon wakes up and sings his passionate song (“Fatal vow!”), thanks to which at the very beginning of the work the effect of complete surprise is achieved through the contrast between the two songs. The procedure brings to mind a principle used in the Shakespearean plays, namely constant distraction of the recipient’s attention through unexpected twists and turns, for example a sudden appearance of a character, but also the deployment of a musical interlude, written about by Ludwig Tieck in his study of the marvellous in Shakespeare37. An example of this is the lullaby for Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, whose soothing melody (contrasted with Oberon’s malicious spell cast over the Fairy Queen and containing, as we know, a little bit of falsehood) is to deceive not only Titania but also the viewer. The introduction of Weber’s opera makes use of the same strategy, which proves that Oberon’s dependence on Shakespeare’s play – which may seem insubstantial on the level of the plot – manifests itself in the function that concrete musical forms play in the two works, positioned in specific places and having clearly defined relations to preceding or subsequent events.

Weber’s opera expresses the connection between music and nature as a reflection of supernatural powers, which is conveyed in Shakespeare’s play, in a way that was both original but also characteristic of the aesthetics of the Romantic theatre. In Oberon’s Act Two, Puck calls the spirits of the four elements to damage Huon’s ship and strand it on a rocky islet. In response, the spirits cause a sea storm. The scene harks back to Titania’s monologue in Scene Three of A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

TITANIA:

Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,

As in revange, have sucked up from the sea

Contagious fogs which, falling in the land,

Hath every pelting river made so proud

That they have overborne their continents.

←35 | 36→

Both fragments depict nature as subjected to supernatural power and at the same time as being the embodiment of this power. A similar function is played by the appearance of the mermaids in the ending of Oberon’s Act Two: like the mermaids mentioned by the Fairy King in Shakespeare’s play, with their singing they soothe the world submerged in temporary chaos and they restore harmony and order with their music. The notion of nature as a medium of the extrasensory world that Shakespeare uses in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so close to the Romantic philosophy of nature, may be interpreted in the context of Oberon also through the Romantic philosophy of music. It needs to be mentioned at this point that Weber in his opera illustrates the storm caused by the elemental spirits with instrumental music (termed in the libretto storm music). The preceding dialogue between Puck and the choir of the spirits is silenced when the storm begins, the storm being a sign of the interference of the supernatural world in the real world on the fictional level of the text and a metaphor of the supernatural world’s mystery on the ideological level. According to the Romantic conception of music, for example of Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling and Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann, the secret of the absolute, transcendence and infinitude finds its most complete expression in instrumental music38. This idea was strongly emphasized by Arthur Schopenhauer, who defined instrumental music as pure, free of any admixtures or concepts that could violate its transparency; because of this, instrumental music does not merely express some phenomenon or idea but constitutes their counterpart, conveying the phenomenon, idea or object per se39. Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder differentiated along similar lines between music related to the word and instrumental music: “language can describe all the movements of a rapid river while music renders the river itself”40. In light of the philosophy of the time, the storm in Oberon had two consequences: first, thanks to the deployment of instrumental music Weber presented “the storm as it is”, while at the same time, making use of the art form that most fully expresses the absolute, he expressed the idea of nature as a medium of the extrasensory world. It should be added here that the storm scene played another important role in Oberon: similarly to the above-mentioned ending of Act Two with the mermaid’s singing and the Fairies’ dancing on the seashore sand, the storm scene co-creates a series of theatrical effects of a feria spectacle.

←36 | 37→

With its numerous visual and phonic impressions, Weber’s work resembles Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in yet another way. The Shakespearean way of shaping dramatic material – his brave juxtaposition of contrasts and combination of aesthetic opposites, so strongly emphasized in his reception during Romanticism – can be noticed also in Oberon, not so much in Planché’s libretto but in Weber’s musical score, full of musical contrasts and construed through various types of ambience. What August Wilhelm Schlegel argues in his Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature as a summary of the Romantic reflection on the comedy on a June night’s fever can as well be said about Weber’s opera:

In The Midsummer Night’s Dream again there flows a luxuriant vein of the boldest and most fantastical invention; the most extraordinary combination of the most dissimilar ingredients seems to have arisen without effort by some ingenious and lucky accident, and the colours are of such clear transparency that we think the whole of variegated fabric may be blown away with a breath41.

Weber’s “soap bubbles measuring and illustrating the plot”, as Piotr Kamiński wrote about Oberon’s fragments, “sparkle with ferric imagination”42. The lace-like lightness of the motifs related to the world of the Fairies, the dramatic solo parts of Rezia and Huon, the musical illustrations of the lovers’ dreams and the vision of the violent sea storm – all of this adds up to a whole whose province – similarly to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – is the heterogeneity of the elements put together in “the boldest and most fantastical” fashion, to use Schlegel’s expression.

←37 | 38→←38 | 39→

11 L. Tieck, O cudowności u Shakespeare’a in O cudowności u Shakespeare’a i inne pisma krytyczne, translated, edited and with the introduction by M. Leyko, Gdańsk 2006, p. 42.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid. Tieck’s comments on the ways of achieving illusion in Shakespeare’s comedies will be discussed in a more detailed way in the chapter devoted to The Tempest.

14 A.W. Schlegel, A Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, trans. John Black, v. II, London 1815, p. 177.

15 It is a feature characteristic of many Shakespearean plays, as unanimously argued by many English-speaking scholars analysing music in Shakespeare’s works. Cf. e.g.: J.S. Manifold, The Music in English Drama: From Shakespeare to Purcell, London 1956 (especially p. 21); P.J. Seng, The Vocal Songs in the Plays of Shakespeare: A Critical History, Massachusetts 1967; J.H. Long, Shakespeare’s Use of Music: A Study of the Music and Its Performance in the Original Production of Seven Comedies, Gainesville 1955; W. H. Auden, “Music in Shakespeare”, in The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays, New York 1962, pp. 500–527.

16 W. H. Auden, “Music in Shakespeare”, op. cit.

17 All the quotations from Shakespeare's plays in the whole book come from The New Oxford Shakespeare: William Shakespeare, The Complete Works: Modern Critical Edition, eds. G. Tylor, J. Jowett, T. Bourus and G. Egan, Oxford 2016. The act is identified with a Roman numeral and the scene with the Arabic numeral in the main text.

18 Cf. E. Fubini, Historia estetyki muzycznej, trans. Z. Skowron, Cracow 1997, pp. 114–118. In his study Le institutioni harmoniche (1558), Zarlino emphasizes the possibility of extrasensual and rational understanding of the essence of the sphere’s harmony: “But every reason persuades us to believe that the world is composed with harmony, both because its soul is a harmony (as Plato believed), and because the heavens are turned round their intelligence with harmony, as may be gathered from their revolutions, which are proportionate to each other in velocity. This harmony is known also from the distances of the celestial spheres, for these distances (some believe) are related in harmonic proportion, which although not measured by the sense, is measured by the reason” (quoted in: J. James, The Music of the Spheres: Music, Science, and the Natural Order of the Universe, New York 1995, s. 91–92).

19 The popularity of the idea of the spheres’ harmony contributed to some widely held opinions during the Elizabethan period, especially the belief in the therapeutic function of music (that is, music’s ability to restore one’s inner harmony). Cf. P.J. Seng, The Vocal Songs, op. cit., vv. 31–32 [“Elizabethan audience (…) believed that music had actual therapeutic value, that it could minister to a mind diseased, cure sickness, or induce sleep”].

20 Cf. S. Greenblatt, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, W.W. Norton & Company, New York-London 2010, p. 47.

21 Ibid, p. 48.

22 V. Hugo, “Preface to Cromwell”, in The Works of Victor Hugo. Dramas, V. 3, trans. George Burnham Ives, Michigan 1909.

23 The word “bones” could possibly signify a sort of a wooden rattle (cf. W. Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, edited and with an introduction by P. Mroczkowski, op. cit., footnote on p. 107).

24 Ibid, footnote on p. 32.

25 The elves’ ballet was performed by a group of boys. The necessity for the participation of children in the stagings of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Shakespeare’s times is discussed, among others, by W.R. Davies, Shakespeare’s Boy Actors, London 1939, p. 165.

26 Cf. the list in J.S. Manifold’s book, The Music in English Drama…, op. cit., p. 21.

27 See e.g. N. Coghill, Shakespeare’s Professional Skills, Cambridge 1964.

28 Cf. D.P. Young, Something of Great Constancy: The Art of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Yale Studies in English, New Haven–London 1966, p. 57.

29 An example of such a dance is a country dance, popular in the 17th-century England, performed by two rows of dancers – men and women – facing each other. See Encyklopedia muzyki, ed. A. Chodkowski, 2nd ed., Warsaw 2001, p. 167.

30 See Shakespeare in Music: Essays by J. Stevens, Ch. Cudworth, W. Dean, R. Fiske. With a Catalogue of Musical Works, London 1964, p. 264.

31 See P.J. Seng, The Vocal Songs…, op. cit., p. 252.

32 Cf. P. Kamiński, Tysiąc i jedna opera, v. II, Warsaw 2008, pp. 183–184.

33 The libretto contains only one verse that does not come from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream but is necessary for dramatic lucidity (it explains the reasons for the complicated relationships of Helena, Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius).

34 Cf. A. Tuchowski, Benjamin Britten: twórca – dzieło – epoka, Warsaw 1994, p. 234.

35 I follow here: Shakespeare in Music… op. cit., p. 264. Ambroise Thomas’s opera titled Le Songe d’une nuit d’été, which premiered on 20 April 1850 at the Opéra Comique in Paris, is not based on Shakespeare’s comedy – despite what its title may suggest – but presents a few episodes from the playwright’s life. Thomas’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was staged in the 19th century also in Warsaw, for the first time on 6 February 1881 (see H. Secomska, Repertuar teatrów warszawskich 1863–1890, Warsaw 1971).

36 The quotes from Oberon’s libretto come from the text published on account of the opera’s staging by Monteverdi Choir and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner in 2002.

37 See L. Tieck, O cudowności…, op. cit., p. 60.

38 Cf. E. Fubini, Historia estetyki muzycznej, op. cit., pp. 264–266, 281–288.

39 See A. Schopenhauer, “Metafizyka muzyki”, trans. J. Garewicz, Ruch Muzyczny 1971, no. 1.

40 Quoted in E. Fubini, Historia estetyki muzycznej, op. cit., p. 261.

41 A.W. Schlegel, A Course of Lectures on Dramatic…, op. cit., p. 176.

42 See P. Kamiński, Tysiąc i jedna opera, op. cit., p. 721.

2 Ariel Enchanted into a Gesture: Jacques Fromental Halévy’s The Tempest

In Shakespeare’s whole dramatic oeuvre it is The Tempest that contains the most effective arrangement of musical elements, which found its clear reflection in several interpretations spawned by the Romantic period. The musicality of the play was particularly strongly emphasized by Ludwig Tieck in Shakespeare’s Treatment of the Marvellous:

Songs and singing appear in The Tempest all the time: Ferdinand enters when Ariel sings a bizarre song, fully corresponding to the colour of the magic world (…). With music Ariel puts Alonso and his companions to sleep and with music he wakes them up. Stephano enters with song, Caliban ends Scene Two with song, Ariel plays in Act Three while Trinculo and Stephano sing, the spirits bring the table for Alonso and his companions to the accompaniment of solemn music, sweet music can be heard after Ariel’s disappearance, sweet music introduces the masque that Prospero makes the spirit perform, strangers enter Prospero’s enchanted circle with solemn singing, shortly afterwards Ariel sings a joyful song. In this way, Shakespeare does not let the music go silent throughout the whole play, for he well knows the impact of the sounds on the feelings43.

This meticulous catalogue does not do justice to the complexity of The Tempest’s musical elements contained in the structure of the play. On the musical level sketched by Tieck and present through almost the whole play, it is naturally Ariel – the “quaint” spirit44 – serving Prospero, that plays a key role. It is primarily through his songs and magical endeavours that – as Caliban sees it – “The isle is full of noises,/Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not” (III, 2). In the majority of cases, however, the music in The Tempest is not merely deployed to cause pleasure or sensory excitement; the musicality of the play is masterfully related to its general message and the multiple meanings this message is composed of.

The music permeating Prospero’s island is “no mortal business, nor no sound that the earth owes” (I, 2), as Ferdinand claims, making his first, insecure steps on the sandy shore. It emanates from various directions and it is impossible to determine whether it comes from “th’air, or th’earth?”. The subtle oxymoronicity ←39 | 40→of the young prince’s statement perfectly captures the magical character of the sounds saturating Prospero’s kingdom, which constantly remain at the service of his aerial spirit and are one of his most significant and highly efficient magical tools. Ariel’s deployment of music is revealed already in the introductory act, in the two songs addressed to Ferdinand. The first constitutes an invitation to participate in a joyous dance on the yellow seashore sand. It is a musical sign that the storm has been silenced and the natural order and harmony have been restored:

ARIEL:

Come unto these yellow sands,

And then take hands;

Courtsied when you have and kissed –

The wild waves whist –

Foot it featly here and there,

And sweet sprites bear

the burthen. Hark, hark.

SPIRITS [within]: Bow-wow!

ARIEL: The watch-dogs bark:

SPIRITS [within]: Bow-wow!

ARIEL: Hark, hark! I hear

The strain of strutting Chanticleer

Cry ‘cock-a-diddle-dow’.

(I, 2)

Ariel’s song shows Prospero’s island to the princely son as terrae firmae45, a safe haven and a hospitable shelter, leading him at the same time to the highest joy – to Miranda. The sound of dogs’ barking and a cock’s crowing – multiplied by the echo – that accompany the heavenly music put Ferdinand’s mind – hitherto troubled by the violence of the storm – promising stability and balance that the firm land entails. “Thence I have followed it, / Or it hath drawn me rather” – says Ferdinand about the music he hears. The situation presented in this way constitutes a reflection of the mythological accounts of the irresistible strength of the mermaids’ singing46, which get an original interpretation in Shakespeare’s text: the destructive force of the mermaids that with their sensuous voices lead their victims to demise has been replaced in The Tempest with the noble intentions of the aerial spirit, whose music leads a man in despair towards ←40 | 41→goodness and love. To a large extent, then, Ariel’s first song reflects one of the major messages of Shakespeare’s play: as a turning point between the tumult of the storm and the calm of the firm land, it becomes a symbol of a transition of a man from immersion in the chaos and depravity of the world into moral healing.

The figure of transformation informs Ariel’s second song as well, in which Prospero’s servant depicts the deceased father lying at the bottom of the sea:

ARIEL:

Full fathom five thy father lies,

Of his bones are coral made;

Those are pearls that were his eyes;

Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange.

Sea-nimphs hourly ring his knell.

Burthen: Ding-dong.

Hark! Now I hear them – Ding-dong bell.

(I, 2)

Ariel’s song expresses the fears of Ferdinand, who feels sadness and suffering, being certain of Alonso’s death. This poetic rendering of the princely son’s imaginings contains a veneer of comfort: transformed into a beautiful and rich sea jewel, the dead father no longer feels pain. In the context of the whole play, however, it is not a gesture of comfort that plays a primary role in Ariel’s song, but the depiction of the transformation of what is unstable and prone to various influences into what is stable and permanent. The change of the dead father’s bones and eyes into corals and pearls symbolizes the transformation of the world that is prone to evil and based on a loose moral foundation into the world of firm order. At the same time, this picture is a clear anticipation of future events, a sign of Alonso’s transformation, whereby having been led by Prospero to “a psychological death of sorrow” 47, he will experience spiritual transformation.

It is not only Ferdinand who experiences the magical effect of Ariel’s music. The “solemn music” (II, 1) puts Alonso and his companions to sleep, while the song sung into the ear of the sleeping Gonzalo wakes him up, thanks to which the king’s advisor and the monarch himself are protected from sudden death. As I argued in the first chapter, inciting the characters to action and initiating events through music occurs frequently in the Shakespearean drama; the examples include not only the songs of Puck, the fairy, or Bottom, the craftsman, in A ←41 | 42→Midsummer Night’s Dream but also of Bassan in The Merchant of Venice or Iago in Othello48. Ariel’s energising song is an example of this trend and turns out to be an important element of The Tempest’s strategy, that is the inclusion of music within the most important magical tools of Prospero and his faithful servant. “My master through his art foresees the danger” – announces Ariel just before he sings his song to Gonzalo – “That you, his friend, are in – and sends me forth,/For else his project dies, to keep them living” (II, 1). A subtle provocation that Prospero’s servant engages in this scene obviously has as its aim the unmasking of individual characters’ true intentions. It needs to be noted that Ariel’s masterful play – putting some characters to sleep with his music and then waking them up at a precisely selected moment – enables the magical spirit to reveal the amorality of Antonio and Sebastian, who were planning their murderous scheme. Otherwise, it would probably be impossible – or at least way less spectacular – to see clearly the true face of the king’s and the prince’s brothers.

An interesting counterpoint to Ariel’s songs, strictly connected to the plot of the play and constantly shaping its evolution, may be found in the last sequence sung by Ariel, positioned as if outside the temporal frame of the play, as it refers to the imaginary reality that will come into being only after the play ends. As a reaction to the promise of a prompt restoration of freedom, Ariel’s last song depicts the life Prospero’s servant desires, a life filled with picking nectar from flowers, resting among the petals of the meadow bellflowers and joyfully searching for a never-ending summer:

ARIEL:

Where the bee sucks, there suck I,

In a cowslip’s bell I lie;

There I couch when owles do cry;

On the bat’s back I do fly

After summer merrily.

Merrily, merrily shall I live now

Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.

(V, 1)

This vision of a perfect life, sketched with precision and succinctness worthy of admiration49, expresses not only the happiness of the aerial spirit caused by the ←42 | 43→approaching freedom but also the echo of the satisfaction of Prospero, whose actions resulted in harmony’s victory over chaos. Ariel’s song seems a lyrical gloss of the whole play, emphasizing its final message: the moral storm and the fervour of wicked desires have been silenced and have become a thing of the past, making way for justice and goodness. Ariel’s song of constant summer and freedom is an exceptionally beautiful and poetic laudatory hymn on the new world of the future, created for the man freed of his own wickedness.

The veil of blessing is also brought about by the song of the goddesses Juno and Ceres, included in the “wedding masque” of the play’s Act Four. The scene exemplifies “theatre within theatre”, a measure frequently employed by Shakespeare in his plays. The presence of the theatrical “masque” in The Tempest can be explained by King James I’s great predilection for this kind of spectacle and hence the playwright’s desire to ingratiate himself with the monarch.50 This notwithstanding, Shakespeare must have been aware of the crucial role played for the dramatic art by the potential attractiveness of the theatrical spectacle inherent in it. This is corroborated by the fact that “masques” as elements increasing the stage value of the play appeared in many of Shakespeare’s works written before the death of Queen Elizabeth I and James’s succession to the throne: in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It or Twelfth Night. Seen from this perspective, the “wedding masque” of The Tempest has its place among many other significant factors contributing to the play’s spectacular character, but its role goes way deeper than that. This “most majestic vision and harmonious charmingly” (IV, 1) – to use the words of Ferdinand, watching the spectacle – performs yet another important role. The conjugal union, presented here as a harmonious and flawless relation, is to reflect the harmony of the whole universe. Music plays the primary role in drawing attention to this parallel: the song of blessing sung by the two goddesses, Juno and Ceres, and the common dance of the Nymphs and the Reapers dressed in ceremonial garb symbolize the unity of the real and the supernatural worlds, ensuring the stability of the sacred union of the young couple getting married51.

The elevated and charming music – Ariel’s songs leading to goodness and happiness, the hymn of blessing and the wonderful tones accompanying the ←43 | 44→disappearing feast (III, 3) – have a clear counterpoint in The Tempest in music marked by dissonance and mockery. On the musical plane of the text, heavenliness, spirituality and harmony confront their tonal dissonance of earthly weakness. The realm of “a solemn air, and the best comforter to an unsettled fancy” (V, 1)52 is invaded several times by unceremonious, irritating tones: these are the songs of Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban, typically sung under the influence of strong alcohol. These musical inclusions constitute a strong comic element of the play while at the same time perfectly characterizing the persons performing them. Stephano’s song of a girl with an axe-sharp tongue who chose a tailor over a sailor [“The Master, the swabber, the boatswaine, and I” (II, 2)]53 illustrates the vulgarity and uncouthness of the butler, while the drunkard song of Caliban intoxicated both with alcohol and the vision of freedom [“No more dams I’ll make for fish” (II, 2)] perfectly captures his naivety and stupidity54. The song about free thought sung together by Stephano and Trinculo [“Flout’em and scout’em, and scout’em and flout’em” (III, 2)] also primarily sheds light on the ignorance and mediocrity of its singers who are constantly stupefied by liquor, even if it is more strictly related to the plot of the play than the preceding songs. The obvious mockery of their masters for the sake of free thinking [“Thought is ←44 | 45→free”] reeks of derision of the revolutionary concepts conceived of by dilettantes and fools – Caliban’s “free thinking” and his scheme of killing Prospero yield, after all, no results. What is more, in Shakespeare’s times the sentences must have read as almost anarchic, as no thought – and especially no revolutionary thought – was “free”.

As August Wilhelm Schlegel argued in Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, in The Tempest “the influence of the wonderful world of spirits is interwoven with the turmoil of human passions and with the farcical adventures of folly”55. This finds a perfect illustration in the complex musical structure of the play. The two separate and distinct musical planes of the drama – the magical and the ordinary – signal the play’s contrast between elevation and derision. In this context, the scene of plotting Prospero’s death seems particularly note-worthy. The melody sung out of tune by Stephano is, all of a sudden, repeated by Ariel, who – remaining invisible to the butler, jester and Caliban – produces proper tones on the pipe and the drum. Ariel’s harmonious music gradually draws the clownish revolutionaries through the painful test of endurance – in the form of a bath in a stinky pond and escape from the spirits assuming the shape of biting hounds – to the ultimate resolution of events subordinated to Prospero’s wishes. As a result of the junction of the two musical planes in the scene, the domination of the clever Ariel over the group of fools is accentuated, and more importantly, the three ignoramuses are made to enter the route that would enable the realization of Prospero’s plans within a clearly determined time frame. It needs to be pointed out that the fictional time in The Tempest corresponds to the duration of the play and is strictly determined: it is three hours between 3 and 6pm56. Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban focus mostly on the consumption of liquor and their lengthy divagations slow down and disintegrate the whole action that is to unfold on the island within three hours. Are not the wrong notes of the songs sung by the butler and the jester, in all likelihood performed without respect for their metric order, a great example of this disruption? By contrast, Ariel’s music, ←45 | 46→untouched by wrong tones or rhythmic impropriety, organizes and orders the characters’ actions and groups of related events, positioning them in a proper time frame to bring the elaborate plan of his master to its ultimate completion.

The masterfully construed musical tissue of The Tempest constituted from the very beginning an open invitation to all the musicians in awe of Shakespeare’s mastery. Predictably, already in the 17th century and in the following centuries out of all Shakespeare’s plays composers concentrated most on The Tempest, which resulted in an impressive number of works based on it. Among hundreds of compositions inspired by The Tempest57 – songs, overtures, symphonic poems, fantasies and ballets, authored by both lesser-known composers and renowned masters such as Henry Purcell, Hector Berlioz or Peter Tchaikovsky58 – there are almost forty operas. What is surprising, however, is the fact that none of the opera compositions based on this Shakespearean play and composed between the 17th and 20th centuries can be called a masterpiece59. In the history of the opera theatre, too, no adaptation of The Tempest made a name for itself as particularly exceptional or extraordinary: it was other compositions that remained for decades on the programme of European and world theatres (for example, Giuseppe Verdi’s or Gioachino Rossini’s operas), that opened new staging possibilities accommodating various aspects of the dynamic evolution of the opera theatre (the case of Robert the Devil of Giacomo Meyerbeer, staged for the first time at the Opèra de Paris in 1831, which for many years determined the style of a Romantic opera show), that provoked disputes lasting for many years (as Mozart’s Don Giovanni – with its premiere in Prague in 1787 – decades ahead of its time and adored by the Romantics, including Goethe and E.T.A. Hoffmann), or that changed the reception of an operatic work and the perception of opera as such – as a conglomerate of either equal elements or, by contrast, of various elements subordinate to one another (the example being Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Alceste, postulating the superiority of dramatic poetry over music; ←46 | 47→premiere in Paris in 1767). The composers’ inability to adapt Shakespeare’s The Tempest for dramatic-musical theatre was clearly visible especially in the 19th century, when the most renowned composers – Felix Mendelssohn or Peter Tchaikovsky – attempted to write an opera on its basis yet neither of these projects was ever completed. There is one note-worthy realization among the nine 19th century operas based on The Tempest60: it is La Tempesta composed by Jacques Fromental Halévy with the libretto written by Eugène Scribe, which premiered in London in 1850. Even though the opera was staged at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London only thirteen times before being removed from the programme for good, its literary shape and the method of modifying the Shakespearean predecessor speaks volumes about the condition and specificity of the opera theatre of the mid-19th century, which was positioned at the intersection of trends stemming from high-brow and low-brow theatre culture.

When he started working on The Tempest, Halévy had already enjoyed great respect and recognition for over a dozen years due to the success of The Jewess (premiere: Paris 1835), followed by his subsequent popular compositions, especially the comic opera L’Éclair (1835), and then Charles VI (1843) and Le Val d’Andorre (1848). Scribe as well had already written texts commonly considered exemplary, among others, the libretto to The Jewess, to Auber’s The Mute Girl of Portici (1828), to Rossini’s Le Comte Ory (1828) and to Meyerbeer’s operas: Robert the Devil (1831), Les Huguenots (1836) and The Prophet (1849), beside penning over two hundred texts for the dramatic theatre. The cooperation of such renowned artists was from the outset a guarantee of the ultimate success of their undertaking. The result came up to the expectations: written for Her Majesty’s Theatre and staged for the first time on 8 June 1850, La Tempesta enjoyed a spectacular success in London. The press abounded in articles praising the creators of the masterpiece. The reviewer at The Daily News wrote, for example:

We have no hesitation in thinking that La Tempesta will be regarded as the “chef d’oeuvre” of its celebrated author. It’s the work of a poet as well as a musician, like all Halévy’s work it is profound in thought and masterly in construction, while it is bold, ←47 | 48→free, imaginative and dramatic, with a great deal of expressive melody, set off by the most varied and elegant instrumentation61.

In an article published in The Times a critic called Scribe “the first living dramatist of Europe” and ranked “La Tempesta higher than any previous effort of its composer”62. The reviewer at The Illustrated London News argued that “such a truly artistic work has seldom been seen on any stage; it is full of charming contrasts, employs every resource of modern art, and is free from all that is meretricious, glaring, and noisy”63. A famous music critic at The Athaneum, Henry Fothergill Chorley, in his book Thirty Years’ Musical Recollections64, published twelve years after the premiere of La Tempesta, situated Scribe and Halévy’s work in the context of the history of Her Majesty’s Theatre and emphasized the value of La Tempesta’s premiere for the theatre on account of the difficulties it was going through at the beginning of the 1850s (especially financial problems and scarcity of actors), mentioning the wealth and good taste of stage design and good musical preparation of the whole cast65.

The opera was performed in London in Italian. Scribe’s French libretto was translated into Italian by Pietro Giannone, and the booklet published for the premiere included the opera’s text both in Italian and in English66. The decorations were designed by Charles Marshall, the choreography was prepared by Paul Taglioni, and the orchestra was conducted by Michael Balfe. One look at the cast is enough to claim that without a shadow of a doubt the best artists of the London opera of the time were involved in the staging of The Tempest. Viewers and critics paid most attention to three of the numerous singers and dancers ←48 | 49→performing in the opera67: the soprano Henrietta Sontag (as Miranda), who had returned to the opera stage in 1849 after almost a twenty-year-long break in her career68, the great bass Luigi Lablache as Caliban69 and Carlotta Grisi (as Ariel), one of the best European dancers of the time, famous for the role of Giselle written especially for her by Théophile Gautier. Due to Grisi’s departure from London shortly after the premiere of The Tempest, Scribe’s and Halévy’s work that got such an enthusiastic reception in London (causing even more applause than Verdi’s operas played at that time at Her Majesty’s Theatre, including Ernani and The Lombards on the First Crusade) was performed only 13 times (the last performance taking place on 1 August 1850); due to the lack of a dancer that could replace Miss Grisi it was never again played in the 19th century.

The Londoners were reminded of the existence of The Tempest also by its humorous and irreverent echo, the burlesque La! Tempest! Ah!, presented for the first time at the Theatre Royal Haymarket on 20 June 1850, that is less than a fortnight after the premiere of Halévy’s opera70. It needs to be stated at this point that the burlesque, present in the history of the British theatre since the 17th century71, was irrevocably connected also with the history of the English opera, the evidence of which is obviously The Beggar’s Opera (1728) – the first ballad opera, which functioned not only as a social satire but also as a parody of Italian opera. It could thus be assumed that, following the tradition of the genre, La! Tempest! Ah! parodied primarily the French language of the Parisian composer’s ←49 | 50→work. That was far from true, though. La! Tempest! Ah! was in fact based on the burlesque of Robert and William Brough, titled The Enchanted Isle, or Raising the Wind on the Most Approved Principles, which was a remake of another burlesque, presented at London’s Adelphi Theatre in 1848 and parodying the staging of Shakespeare’s The Tempest in 1847 by the renowned director Samuel Phelps72. The chain of dependences that La! Tempest! Ah! found itself in while making fun of Halévy’s work is not only a good illustration of the popularity, vivacity and great stage condition of the burlesque of the mid-19th-century London theatre but also a good reflection of its vital generic feature, namely the courage in caricaturing the works of even the greatest masters and their unquestionable artistic achievements so as to emphasize their meaning through laughter.

On 25 February 1851, less than a year after the London premiere of The Tempest, Halévy’s opera was presented in Paris at the Théâtre-Italien73. Scribe and Halévy’s masterpiece did not enjoy in Paris a success similar to the one it had in London. The opera was presented in a shortened version (without almost whole Act Three), which probably stemmed from the desire to expose Caliban’s role, played in Paris, as in London, by Luigi Lablache. Even though both Lablache and Henrietta Sontag as Miranda were enthusiastically received by the Parisian viewing public, the shadow on the premiere was cast by the accident of Carolina Rosati (the dancer playing Ariel), who in the first scene fell down and hurt her leg. Even though she was able to continue her part after a break, The Tempest was labelled a work doomed74. The opera did not get very positive reception among the Parisian critics as too dependent on the Italian school, especially the style of Bellini and Donizetti75. It was performed in Paris in 1851 only 8 times and did not later appear at all on European stages.

←50 | 51→

The beginning of Shakespeare’s play and the prologue of Scribe and Halévy’s opera may seem similar, as both are initiated by the scene of a raging storm. There are no other parallels, though. In Shakespeare’s The Tempest the main sense of the first scene is contained in the words of Boatswain, furiously fighting the untamed element, addressing Gonzalo in an ironic tirade:

You are a counsellor; if you can command these elements to silence and work the peace of the present, we will not hand a rope more. Use your authority. If you cannot, give thanks you have lived so long and make yourself ready in your cabin for the mischance of the hour, if it so hap. (I, 1)

The conviction expressed here about the equality of all human beings in the face of imminent death, regardless of their social status and positions held, is replaced in the prologue of Scribe and Halévy’s opera with the premise that God’s justice does not allow any misdeed to go unpunished. The characters sleeping onboard – Alonso (the King of Naples), his son Ferdinand, Antonio (the Prince of Milan) and the courtiers and sailors accompanying them – are surrounded by a crowd of fantastical winged creatures invisible to mortals. While the choir of aerial spirits sing over the heads of the sleeping passengers, Ariel appears and watches the situation closely. The choir foretells the approaching hour of doom, during which the power of God’s punitive hand will be revealed:

CHORUS OF INVISIBLE GENII:

Now, ye frail mortals,

Now comes the hour:

Nought can resist thee,

Terrible power.

Soon wilt thou smite them

With thy strong hand.

[CORO DI GENII INVISIBILI:

Tremate, o miseri,

L’ora è vicina,

Scende a percuotervi

La man divina,

Nè può resisterle

Alcun poter.]

(prologue)76

←51 | 52→

Alonso’s and Antonio’s dreams remind them of their transgressions, while the spirit choir’s comments complement the main thought of the opera’s initial scene:

CHORUS OF INVISIBLE GENII:

’Twas by thee, of foul crime an accomplice,

That an innocent brother was slain,

But the deed has drown down Heaven’s vengeance,

Nor long shall unpunished remain.

[CORO DI GENII INVISIBILI:

Assassin d’un fratello innocente

D’un delitto tu complice infame

La giustizia di Dio non consente

Impunite se barbare trame.]

Divine justice shows a tangible sign at this point as the spirits start a violent storm, which wakes up all the passengers, causes their immense fear and provokes their anxious prayers for deliverance.

Unlike in Shakespeare’s play, the prologue of the operatic The Tempest shows a world flawed with guilt and marked with destruction stemming from a man’s choice of a sinful path. The interference of the supernatural world (here, the choir of winged spirits causing the storm) is to consolidate the reality, fractured due to an evil deed, to restore order to the existence that is falling apart and to put in balance human condition impaired by sin. The subjugation of the supernatural powers to the idea of meting out just punishment for each evil deed, so deeply rooted in the early-Romantic consciousness, linked to the prominent Romantic conviction that the supernatural world and its powers are reflected in natural phenomena holds a central position in the prologue of Scribe and Halévy’s opera. It nullified the notion of people’s equality in the face of death present at this point of Shakespeare’s tragedy and positioned there completely outside the realm of supernatural powers. The imagery of the first scene of Halévy’s work and rooted in the Romantic imagination is complemented by the emphasis on a specific role of dream, presented here as a sphere of revealing the most secret human thoughts and desires, a mirror to the soul marked with depravity, and a medium of truth, which is veiled with falsity or understatement during the waking hours.

Even though in the operatic adaptation of The Tempest extrasensory reality manifests itself in a secret, suggestive way (the spirits are invisible to the characters), its actions are presented in a constant and univocal way. In a world clearly polarized between good and evil, fantastic beings are also situated either in the realm of the heavenly powers (the faithful Ariel, good Sylphids and the ←52 | 53→choir of the spirits serving justice) or in the clearly contrasted sphere of infernal powers (the deceitful witch Sycorax who incites some to evil). The angelic-satanic juxtaposition in Scribe and Halévy’s The Tempest pertains also to human beings: the main character on the good side is of course Miranda, presented in Prospero’s romanza as a wonderful flower loved and admired by every human and heavenly being [“Ai celesti diletto ed agli uomini/Tutti ammiran ed aman quel fior” (I, 6)], while on the evil side Caliban is a major character, an incarnation of wickedness and ungratefulness, making use of the infernal powers that aid him in the realization of the plan of revenge on Prospero, the master he hates [“L’inferno a me propizio,/Servo a comandi miei” (II, 3)]. The clear-cut polarization of the world translates into the lucidity of the main plot of the opera, namely the love affair of Miranda and Ferdinand, who undergo various travails on account of the interpenetration of the real and the supernatural realm. The realization of this motif, that is of love between two noble characters put to difficult tests in a world explicitly divided into good and evil, naturally brings to mind the 19th-century melodrama and its structural patterns. This should not come as a surprise since the librettist of The Tempest had acquired his literary and theatrical experience by writing mostly melodramas and librettos to French grand opèras¸ strictly related to the paradigm of the melodrama.

The exposure of the motif of love in Halévy’s opera brought about, among others, the nullification of one of the most valid issues Shakespeare addresses in his play, namely the metaphorical question of the foundation of the social order and the possibility of its creation and stabilization. It is this problem that the experiences and tests of all the castaways on the island are subjected to in Shakespeare’s The Tempest: Ferdinand, carrying thousands of logs and putting them in piles at Prospero’s order, Stephano and Trinculo, wandering through stinky marshes and bitten by ghosts in the shape of hounds as a result of Ariel’s magic, and Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio lost in the labyrinth of tangled paths together with a group of courtiers and led astray by the apparitions directed by Ariel, irritating their nerves to capacity. All the tests provoked by Prospero are to reveal the weakness of individual characters and to lead them to full self-awareness: the concretization of their wishes (Ferdinand’s trial is a test of his love to Miranda), the awareness of their immaturity and the impossibility of realizing too demanding goals (Stephano and Trinculo need to let go of their desire for royal honours), or the recognition of their own transgressions, repentance and expiation (realizing the truth, Alonso gives the princedom back to Prospero and asks for his forgiveness). The self-awareness the characters reach becomes the foundation of a new social and moral order. Meanwhile, in Scribe and Halévy’s work the precise order of tests leading to improvement is ←53 | 54→disrupted: only Ferdinand is made to undergo a test, and, what is more, his trial has a completely different character than in Shakespeare’s play. In the opera, Ferdinand needs to confront Miranda, who – led by the satanic whisper of the witch Sycorax – is to kill his beloved. With his truly romantic predilection for extreme conduct, the youngster declares his willingness to yield his life to Prospero’s daughter, which convinces her of the sincerity of his feelings and ultimately consolidates their mutual love. The dynamic of changes between Shakespeare’s play and its opera adaptation comes down to the elimination of the issue of self-improvement and maturation of the characters on the way to the restoration of moral and social order, and its replacement with the idea of victorious love, which leads to an order and to the consolidation of the world fractured on account of the transgressions committed by sinful human beings. This primary message of Scribe and Halévy’s work – the great power of love subjected to the supernatural powers revealed in nature – is perfectly captured by a fragment of stage directions for the opera’s Scene Six in Act One: “Ariel shows by pantomime that the young pair need only see each other, and that nature and love will do the rest” [“Ariele coi gesti dinota, che per ottenere ciò, basta che si vedano, e che la natura e l’amore fanno il resto”] (I, 6).

Ariel is the main observer and initiator of events and actions occurring in the labyrinth of tangled love paths that Miranda and Ferdinand need to traverse, being repeatedly subjected to the influence of fantastic powers. Ariel is allegedly the most interesting character in the operatic The Tempest and one that has undergone the most significant modifications vis-à-vis the Shakespearean predecessor. Scribe and Halévy conceived of Ariel as a silent spirit devoid of voice that communicates solely through gesture. Described by Prospero as a “beloved and faithful” spirit, Ariel can “speak” only through gestures and subtle charm:

PROSPERO

Now, gentle Ariel,

Belov’d and faithful spirit,

To whom heaven has denied the gift of speech,

But giv’n thee, in its place,

A grace that speaks,

A gesture that depicts,

All thou would’st utter.

[PROSPERO:

Grazioso Ariele,

Genio amato e fedele,

Tu cui di voce il don ha il ciel negato;

Ma per supplirvi ha dato

←54 |
 55→

Una grazia che parla,

Un gesto che dipinge

Tutto che esprimer voul.]

(I, 6)

It is difficult to univocally determine what was the main reason for Scribe and Halévy’s decision to make Ariel – the character who sings most often in Shakespeare’s play and whose songs could be used as ready-made arias – a figure “enchanted into a gesture” as no direct evidence (in the form of letters or notes) exists that could shed light on the matter. One of the reasons for giving the role of Ariel to a dancer was certainly related to problems with the cast. It is known that initially the role of the air spirit was supposed to be sung by a soprano, yet the London opera did not have two great sopranos that could sing the roles of Miranda and Ariel in The Tempest, while the troupe included a ballet dancer of European renown. What is more, the idea of giving the main role of the opera to a dancer worked fine in one of the most important French operatic works of the first half of the century, in Françoise Auber’s The Mute Girl of Portici (1828). The libretto to La Muette de Portici was penned by Eugène Scribe himself, who probably borrowed the idea of introducing a silent heroine to Auber’s opera from the works of René Charles Guilbert de Pixérécourt. “The Corneille of the Boulevards”, as the father of the French melodrama was called77, used a mute in several of his plays, for example in Coelina, or The Child of Mystery (Coeline ou l’Enfant du mystère, 1800), the first stage success of Pixérécourt, or in The Mute Girl of the Forest (La Muette de la forêt, 1828), the play performed for the first time in the same year that The Mute Girl of Poritici had its premiere. The pantomime scenes in Pixérécourt’s melodramas were performed to the accompaniment of music, as the convention of the genre required78. The fragments of Auber’s opera, in which Fenella relates events through dance, gesture and mimicry and presents her feelings against the background of the orchestra’s accompaniment, are like analogous situations from the plays of “the boulevard Corneille” “great optical and mimic spectacles with the accompaniment of word and ←55 | 56→music”79. Bearing in mind the great stage success of La Muette de Portici, Scribe might have unhesitatingly used this tested concept in the new opera written for Her Majesty’s Theatre. As a result of this decision, effective ballet scenes (in each French opera constituting a prerequisite for the work’s success) undoubtedly met the taste of the London public, exposed in the first decades of the 19th century to performances revelling in their own spectacular character.

The introduction to Halévy’s opera of a person speaking only through a dance gesture, which entailed the expansion of ballet parts, served not only to intensify the spectacularity of the work but also made it possible to expose the illustrative role of instrumental music. Ariel’s dance sequences and pantomimes, devoid of any direct verbal component, were complemented with the voice of the instruments, the message hidden in the harmony of musical chords. The lyrical element 80 is here subtly interwoven with the epic element, contained in the character of the spirit “enchanted into a gesture”.

Ariel, who in the operatic The Tempest walks around the stage, observes, listens, plays musical instruments, casts spells, performs magic and dances, almost constantly illustrates the unfolding events with gestures. Ariel’s pantomimes are most often comments on the actions of other characters but also function as a sort of a tale, as indicated straightforwardly in stage directions, for instance for the third scene of Act Three: “Ariel, who has regained his memory with his strength, tells Prospero, with extreme terror, how Sycorax has given his daughter Miranda into the power of Caliban” [“Ariele, in cui colla forza è ritornata le memoria, nel massimo terrore racconta a Prospero come Sicorace a dato in potere di Calibano sua figlia Miranda”] (V, 3). These accounts of Prospero’s faithful servant slow down the action, functioning as retardation, and are supposed to indicate and emphasize the pivotal moments in the plot and illustrate the moral message of the play. Without using words, Ariel as a narrator – the role absent, after all, in the opera – makes comments or additions and signals interpretation. One may at this point risk a statement that thanks to this the operatic The Tempest shows some links to the Romantic drama, whose generic syncretism and predilection ←56 | 57→for epicness constituted one of the major principles of shaping the dramatic matter. It needs emphasizing here that the narrative function of Ariel’s gestures and dances is not the only sign of epicness in Halévy’s opera, which will be discussed later.

At the other end of the spectrum from Ariel’s actions, leading to the ultimate victory of love and order, the operatic The Tempest positions the manipulations of Caliban, who is very active and indefatigable in plotting his intrigues. The way in which the contrast between these two characters is drawn testifies to a certain dependence of Halévy’s work on the reception of Shakespeare’s The Tempest rooted in the Romantic interpretation of his work, especially the reception of Ludwig Tieck. In his Shakespeare’s Treatment of the Marvellous Tieck writes:

A bizarre contrast between Ariel and Caliban increases our faith in the marvellous. The creation of this rowdy figure was the poet’s most fortunate idea. He presents in Caliban an odd mixture of ridiculousness and ugliness; this monster is so distant from human nature and is presented through such elusive and convincing traits that his presence is sufficient in itself to make us believe that we have been transported to a completely alien and unfamiliar world.81

The description perfectly fits the image of Caliban in the opera as well, for he is a true trouble-maker here, and his role in planning intrigues and the “mixture of ridiculousness and ugliness”, emphasized by Tieck as a dominant feature of his nature, are more strongly stressed in the opera adaptation than in the Shakespearean predecessor. Scribe devoted to Caliban huge fragments of the opera’s first and third acts and the whole Act Two, in which “the monster” [“il mostro”] – as other characters most frequently call Caliban – introduces a substantial comic aspect to the work through the deployment of his magical skills (he imprisons Ariel in the trunk of a pine tree and puts to sleep and subsequently kidnaps Miranda, who is withstanding his violent passions). The comic element inscribed in the figure of Caliban is intensified through the constant play of contrasts in the opera, a good example being the end of Act Two. This part of the opera ends with the “bacchanal song” [“baccanale”] of Caliban intoxicated with wine, and his unrestrained, almost mad dance among the chaotically spinning, carefree and thoughtless sailors constitutes an essential counterpoint to the beautiful, harmonious dances of the good spirits, especially the ballet scenes of Ariel, Sylphs and Sylphids in Act One. The contrast between the dance scenes of opposing aesthetics – in which beauty and harmony are juxtaposed with chaos and ridiculousness – allows the authors of the operatic The Tempest to emphasize the ←57 | 58→carefully construed polarity of the world and the concept of the struggle between good and evil that is ingrained in this construction. At the same time, thanks to such an arrangement of dances, Scribe and Halévy’s work can be read as deriving to some extent from the tradition of Baroque English masques, in which the main dance, presented in the main part of the work and illustrating its key idea, typically had a comic, grotesque counterpart in the antimasque, presented in the wake of or prior to the masque82. The allusion to the tradition of masques requires another reference to Shakespeare’s Treatment of the Marvellous. It can easily be noticed that the supernatural character of the operatic The Tempest seems as if created by Tieck himself. All the conditions that he mentions as being necessary for the creation of the illusion of the supernatural world in a dramatic text have been met by Scribe and Halévy: first of all, the supernatural is complete (to use Tieck’s words, “nothing leads us back to the real world, both the events and the characters are extraordinary”); secondly, the scenes are varied (“Ferdinand and Miranda’s love keeps us interested until the end of the play and precludes admiration of Prospero’s magical tricks only”); thirdly, comicality plays an important role (“comic characters belong to the group of rowdy figures and serve to disperse attention”); and, finally, music exacerbates the supernatural character of the whole (“thanks to sounds fantasy wins and sober reason is sedated”)83. The use of Tieck’s criteria with reference to the operatic The Tempest makes it clear that Scribe and Halévy’s work further intensifies the measures taken by Shakespeare to achieve the illusion of the supernatural. This intensification encompasses the treatment of the motif of love between Miranda and Ferdinand as one of primary importance, a decisive contrast between Ariel and Caliban as the medium of comicality, and also – what is most obvious and spectacular – the musical form of the work. Furthermore, the authors of the opera adaptation of The Tempest removed – as if by Tieck’s order – the only mistaken element – as the author of Puss in Boots saw it – in the structure of Shakespeare’s comedy, that is the wedding “masque”, bearing a clear allegorical character. The absence of this scene in the plot of the operatic The Tempest stemmed naturally from the elimination of the motif of the test: Shakespeare’s allegorical vision of the wedding is a culmination of the trials Ferdinand needs to go through, the motif absent in the opera. As a result, in Halévy’s opera the elements ensuring the achievement ←58 | 59→of stage illusion (in accord with Tieck’s conception) follow a very lucid and constant pattern. In a sense, then, the operatic The Tempest illustrates one of the most intriguing problems the 19th-century reflection on the opera struggled with, namely the question of how to achieve illusion in an operatic work, which the conditions of illusion and naturalness as developed by the poetics of the time did not apply to. Scribe and Halévy’s The Tempest seems a theatrical voice in the debate carried out at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries and continued in the first decades of the latter, whose aim was the expansion of semantic borders of aesthetic concepts and categories, such as naturalness, probability and illusion, to make it possible to include the opera within mimetic arts84.

As for the resignation from the scene of the wedding masque in the operatic The Tempest, it is difficult to resist the feeling that this allegory absent in the structure of Halévy’s work has been replaced with an allegory of a different kind, less obvious and visualized, and not damaging the stage illusion of the work. It manifests itself especially in the creation of the character of Miranda. Prospero’s poetically stunning romanza devoted to Miranda presents an image of a beautiful flower growing in the desert, stroked by a delicate wind and illuminated by sun beams, and surrounded and protected by three values: chastity, innocence and love:

PROSPERO

A sweet flower in a desert is growing;

The stream feeds it, the breeze with it plays,

The bright sun paints its leaves with his rays,

And the morn flings it gems in a show’r;

And fair innocence, virtue and love,

Have to guard it united their power.

[PROSPERO:

Sorge un fior sovra incognita spiaggia,

L’accarezza un legger venticello,

Gli da l’acque cortese il ruscello,

L’alba in pianto, la luce il color.

E proteggono il puro suo calice

La virtù, l’innocenza, l’amor.]

(I, 5)

←59 | 60→

Even though the figures personifying these qualities do not appear on the stage, Prospero’s statement functions as a call to the viewer’s imagination, suffused with allegorical moral senses. The message is not based on the conventional form of allegorical personification but requires finding its meaning in a concrete character and his or her actions. This allegorization of a character’s conduct is readable only in the context of the structure of the whole work. The missing link in the process is the final scene, in which the hands of the future spouses – Miranda and Ferdinand – are joined and Prospero concludes: “Reign, oh reign, in every bosom,/Friendship, constancy and love” [“Regnin solo in ogni petto/Amistà, costanza, amor” (III, scena ultima)]85. Understood in such a way, the allegoricality of Scribe and Halévy’s opera situates it, in fact, within the classical understanding of allegory. One may not find in it even traces of the modification of the traditional meanings of allegory which occurred in the 19th-century literature86. The allegorization of the characters in the operatic The Tempest does not ruin the coherence of the work and contribute to its fragmentarization; on the contrary, it is conducive to the coherence of the whole and functions as moral distinction and message87.

It should be noted that The Tempest combines two tendencies that in various 18th- and 19th-century fantastic literary and theatrical forms showed the evolution of the treatment of the supernatural. The evolution marked by the ←60 | 61→transition from the inclusion of comic or parodist elements in the structure of a fairy tale to the subjugation of the structure to moral categories (the process was very visible, for example, in the history of the magical drama88) found its condensation in Scribe and Halévy’s work. This condensation, that is the combination of comicality and moral message, was based on the direct inspiration with Shakespeare’s drama, characterized mainly by the fusion of seriousness and comic elements, but also – what is crucial in the context of the development of the 19th-century opera – by a tendency for suggestive theatricality. It was meant simultaneously to present a certain worldview (for example, the existence of a higher justice and higher order) and – perhaps primarily – to stun the potential viewer with its theatrical effect. The theatricality and spectacularity of Halévy’s (Scribe and Halévy’s?) The Tempest, present both in comic and serious scenes, is based on a few major elements, representative of the Romantic theatre and the Romantic staging, especially as regards spectacles of a magical or fantastic nature89. The effect of spectacularity is created in the operatic The Tempest by the following: sudden metamorphoses (Ariel’s implantation into a trunk of a pine tree), unexpected phenomena (Prospero’s aerial palace), ballet scenes (Sylphids’ and Sylphs’ dance, the dance of Caliban and the sailors, Ariel’s dances), pantomimic scenes (Ariel’s pantomimes), and tableau, that is the so-called live pictures (the freezing of the dancers at the end of Act Two). What is particularly interesting in this enumeration is the idea of closing an act with a tableau scene, a popular and frequent element of Romantic staging. As Alina Kowalczykowa writes in her study of Victor Hugo’s drama and theatre, “a painterly positioning of the actors, giving the effect of the characters’ freezing, closed a scene with a gestural image that was supposed to remain for long in the viewers’ memories and to shape the mood”90. Yet, in The Tempest it is not only the inscription of the image in one’s memory and not only the specificity of the atmosphere that are of vital importance.

At the end of The Tempest’s Act Two, Miranda grabs an armful of magical flowers and casts a spell with them on Caliban and the sailors, who are trying to capture her; as a result, all of them freeze in the positions that the magical power caught them in [“rimangono tutti immobili ciascuno nella posizione in cui si trova” (II, 5)]. The ←61 | 62→contrast between the rapidity of Caliban’s and his companions’ wild dance and their sudden immobility generates a feeling of strong surprise and intensifies the sense of the strength of the supernatural powers. It has to be noted that Miranda in this scene takes over the power that belonged to Caliban (it was Caliban who used the same magical flowers before, implanting Ariel into a tree trunk and putting Miranda to sleep). The immobilization of the group of drunken dancers functions not only as some sort of a theatrical effect but also becomes a symbolic stop for evil and ignorance, which have hitherto been expanding in an ungovernable way. The rapidity of the tempo’s change, the suddenness of the slow-down serves here also to provoke reflection on vital moral aspects of the work. This moment of the spectacular standstill of the action, symbolizing the halt of wicked powers and the deprivation of evil of the power of action, seems to introduce an epic element to the dramatic structure of the work: it provides a space to reflect on the moral message of the piece. Alongside the narrative function of Ariel’s pantomimes, it is yet another element of epicness in the operatic The Tempest, stemming from the retardation of the action. As Elżbieta Nowicka aptly notes in her study of the magical drama: “in the turn-of-the-century reflection on literature, retardation of the action was treated as a feature typical of the epic and serving to release tension”91. Similarly to the magical drama, in Scribe and Halévy’s The Tempest, the spectacular slowdown of the events does not nullify tension or decrease astonishment. The essence and significance of this epic element in the operatic The Tempest – which is not easy to grasp – is perfectly captured by the conclusion made by Nowicka on the magical drama:

Even though it was subjected to numerous, quasi-epic halts, the structure of time in the magical drama did not have as its aim a peaceful presentation of certainty; on the contrary, it exposed a sudden change and sharpened the recipient’s attention. It deflected from a uni-directional path of causality – typical of dramatic art – making use of clusters of events, glimpses that cannot be explained in any constant order, whether divine, magical or psychological. It needs repeating that what remains is the theatrical arrangement that paradoxically opens up the form to embrace the epic, extending the time of action through the theatrical opening of events in various directions and arrangements to achieve the effect of surprise and astonishment 92.

Viewed in such a way, the epic element in Scribe and Halévy’s work was not only in accord with the Romantic perception of the epic’s rules and aims, but also to some extent showed The Tempest’s proximity to the Romantic drama. Weighing towards the epic, visible in the structure of the Romantic drama, based on the retardation of the action in order to introduce narrative parts, had as its ←62 | 63→aim the emphasis of the work’s message and the opening up towards the multi-dimensionality of time, just as was the case in The Tempest.

At the same time, Scribe and Halévy’s The Tempest decisively diverges here from Shakespeare’s drama, which – as Tieck aptly emphasized – at no point holds the viewer’s attention for longer, distributing temporal accents at equal intervals and thanks to it achieving the illusion of the reality of the depicted world: “the poet disperses our attention and disturbs us to so that we do not observe too carefully the creations of his imagination as this could destroy them”93. Thus, the precisely construed stage illusion has been disrupted in the operatic The Tempest through the temporal dissonance of the tableau scene, enabling the viewers to carefully observe “the creations of [the] imagination” Scribe and Halévy. Bearing in mind the conclusions reached above, that the multi-dimensionality of time helps emphasize the moral message of the work, it can be stated that the wholeness of Shakespeare’s world based on constant illusion, a world of no clear meanings and senses, has been replaced in the opera by the wholeness based on constant moral concepts and values.

The difference is particularly visible in the construction of Prospero. The Shakespearean magician, in the Romantic reception of The Tempest seen as a character who “has assembled the magical world of spirits on the island”94, is substituted in the opera by Prospero as an authoritative and infallible judge. Revealing in the opera’s final act from the height of his aerial throne the judgment of divine justice to his already repenting antagonists – Alonso and Antonio – and joining Miranda’s and Ferdinand’s hands in a bond of marriage, Prospero reminds one rather of a Christian god than of Shakespeare’s magician, who in the Epilogue closing Shakespeare’s play did not hesitate to utter the following words:

PROSPERO:

Now I want

Spirits to enforce, art to enchant;

And my ending is despair

Unless I be relieved by prayer,

Which pierces so, that it assaults

Mercy itself, and frees all faults.

As you from crimes would pardoned be,

Let your indulgence set me free.

(Epilogue)

←63 | 64→

The absence of this final monologue, in Shakespeare’s text marked with irony and breaking the stage illusion of the work, shows the dependence of Scribe and Halévy’s work on melodramatic structures. This is confirmed first and foremost by the sense of the opera’s final scene: good triumphs over evil, without a trace of irony or understatement, and love prevails as the lovers are finally wedded after having gone through various trials. La Tempesta is at this point a paragon of the melodramatic structure; as Michael Booth, an expert on the genre, aptly puts it, “although melodrama is full of violence – (…) villains of extreme savagery, revenge-seeking ghosts, heroes and heroines who experience a series of fearful physical catastrophes and domestic agonies – these are all signposts along the road to ultimate happiness, the triumph of virtue, and defeat of evil”95. The three acts of the opera strictly correspond to the fixed melodramatic pattern, in which the first act presents major values (goodness, love, truth and justice), the second act shows the dominance of evil and the intensification of persecution, while in the third one the virtues triumph96. Secondly, the last scene corroborates the direct dependence of the construction of all the main characters on the melodramatic paradigm. Prospero, in the opera the character not only just but also infallible and not needing absolution, is a typical wise and prudent protector, Miranda is obviously a beautiful, noble and virtuous heroine, subjected to persecution, while Caliban is an evil-doer and persecutor97. Two final factors that cause the operatic The Tempest’s proximity to the melodramatic paradigm are a tendency for the stark theatricality of effect – visible in the spectacular endings of individual acts – that is to increase tension and raise astonishment, and pantomimic scenes, deriving through the inspiration with Pixérécourt’s plays almost from the Parisian boulevard theatre.

One cannot resist a feeling, though, that the multi-segment mosaic that Halévy’s The Tempest is, showing clear affinity to the 19th-century melodrama and its generic harbingers – feria and pantomime – while at the same time exposing numerous features of Shakespeare’s drama (especially the combination of comic and serious elements and the emphasis on the duality of being), is indicative of vital questions posed by the authors and theoreticians of the Romantic drama. The work of the French composer contains permanent echoes ←64 | 65→of the explorations of Romantic dramatists, concentrating on the examination of genres that did not meet the criteria of classical tragedy, of syncretic genres that introduced into the dramatic structure elements typical of other literary modes, namely the epic and the lyric, of genres that made use of illustrative values of music and theatrical gesture. These subtle relations between Halévy’s opera, so heavily marked with the influence of the 19th-century popular culture, and the Romantic endeavours to create a new dramatic form could exist only because of the fact that Scribe’s libretto – just like the Romantic reflection on drama – was based on the Shakespearean masterpiece. Many features of Shakespeare’s drama that formed the basis for the ponderings of August Wilhelm Schlegel, Ludwig Tieck, Victor Hugo, Stendhal and other theoreticians of Romantic drama – such as generic syncretism, combination of antithetical aesthetic categories, diversity and naturalness of language, the passions exposed in the construction of characters of both idiosyncratic and universal features – are present also in the operatic The Tempest, albeit through the use of stage means deriving from popular arts. Bearing in mind the fact that non-canonical genres reigning on European boulevards – with melodrama, feria, lyrical stage and pantomime at the forefront – exerted a substantial influence on the imagination of Romantic dramatists and informed dramatic structures, Scribe and Halévy’s The Tempest may justly be called a lens through which the most important elements shaping the development of the European theatre and drama of the first half of the 19th century are visible.

←65 | 66→←66 | 67→

43 L. Tieck, O cudowności u Shakespeare’a, in O cudowności u Shakespeare’a i inne pisma krytyczne, translated, edited and with an introduction by M. Leyko, Gdańsk 2006, pp. 60–61.

44 The expression is used in The Tempest (Act I, Scene 2).

45 The expression is used by R.S.H. Noble in his analysis of Ariel’s song in Shakespeare’s Use of Songs: With the Text of the Principal Songs, Oxford 1923, p. 100.

46 This idea is discussed, for example, by J.P. Cutts, La musique de scène de la troupe de Shakespeare, Paris 1958, p. 348.

47 I’m quoting here an expression used in his analysis of The Tempest by Robert Grams Hunter, in Shakespeare and the Comedy of Forgiveness, New York 1965, p. 228.

48 Cf. J.R. Moore, “The Function of the Songs in Shakespeare’s Plays”, Shakespeare Studies by Members of the Department of English of the University of Wisconsin, Madison 1916, pp. 93–95.

49 Noble concluded very aptly: “Such an ideal life in such a few words”; see R.S.H. Noble, Shakespeare’s Use…, op. cit., p. 100.

50 Cf. P.J. Seng, The Vocal Songs in the Plays of Shakespeare: A Critical History, Massachusetts 1967, p. 269.

51 The mythological references and the deployment of a pagan ritual in the scene of a wedding blessing resulted from the prohibition against depicting Christian rituals in secular theatre, which was in force when The Tempest was being created (see J.R. Moore, The Function…, op. cit., p. 87).

52 These are Prospero’s words.

53 At this point of the play Shakespeare made use of the adaptation of a common sailors’ song (probably “The Leather Bottel”, see J. H. Long, Shakespeare’s Use of Music, The Final Comedies, Gainesville 1961, p. 120), which is not directly related to the unfolding plot of the play.

54 Some scholars see Caliban’s song as evidence of Shakespeare’s familiarity with the music and habits of the Aborigines, whose triumphant singing was based on repetitions of fragments of the characters’ names. The phrase “Ban ‘ban Ca-Calyban” could then be treated not only as the singing of the drunkard who has trouble articulating sounds but as conscious playing with the sound of his own name that would testify to the attribution to Caliban of features of a primitive man, an Aborigine (see R.S. H. Noble, Shakespeare’s Use…, op. cit., p. 102). Zbigniew Władysław Solski interprets the verse in a very interesting way: “Ban may be a »curse« or »prohibition«, and not only the sound imitating drums. Ca-Ca…, in turn, may generate associations with a much more common word ca’canny, meaning »careful!« before the listener has time to add up the syllables to the name Caliban. The combination of the »prohibition« and »warning«, surfacing from the seemingly chaotic series of syllables, could then be read as »breaking the prohibition« (…) The prisoner’s anti-music, rooted in his opposition to Prospero, actually signals Caliban’s break with his own history, both distant and close” (Z.W. Solski, “Muzyka Ariela i muzyka Kalibana w Burzy Williama Szekspira”, Przestrzenie Teorii 2008, v. 10, p. 192).

55 A.W. Schlegel, A Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, trans. John Black, v. II, London 1815, p. 176.

56 The consequences of the equation of the fictional with the real time in The Tempest, the role of repetition and the disruption of the play’s temporal continuity are discussed by Z.W. Solski, Muzyka Ariela…, op. cit., pp. 176–179. The issue of time in Shakespeare’s play is also addressed by Jan Kott, who argues for the reversibility of time in The Tempest on the basis of scenes that constitute, according to him, recurrence and repetitions of the past. See J. Kott, “Burza albo powtórzenie”, in Szekspir współczesny 2, ed. T. Nyczek, Cracow 1999.

57 A complete list of all the musical pieces inspired by Shakespeare’s dramas and composed by 1964 may be found in Shakespeare in Music: Essays by J. Stevens, Ch. Cudworth, W. Dean, R. Fiske. With a Catalogue of Musical Works, London 1964, pp. 246–283.

58 Purcell is the author of stage music written in 1695 to a contemporary revision of The Tempest (The Tempest or the Enchanted Island, text by J. Dryden, W. Davenant, T. Shadwell), Berlioz composed a fantasy based on the motifs from The Tempest in 1832 (as part of the composition Lelio, ou la retour a la vie, op. 14b), while Tchaikovsky composed a symphonic fantasy in 1873 (op. 18).

59 In 2004 the latest opera realization of The Tempest had its premiere: it was Thomas Ades’s The Tempest, considered exceptional by contemporary musical scholars.

60 The following operas based on The Tempest appeared in the 19th century (listed here in the chronological order). I give the composer’s name, the title of the opera, the place and date of the premiere [year] and – if possible – the name of the librettist in brackets: A.J. Emmert, Der Sturm, Salzburg 1806; P.J. Riotte, Der Sturm, Brno 1833; E. Raymond, Der Sturm, composed circa 1840; E. Rung, Der Sturm, Copenhagen 1847; J.F. Halévy, La Tempesta, London 1850 [E. Scribe]; E. Nápravnik, Der Sturm, Prague 1860; E. Frank, Der Sturm, Hanover 1887; A. Urspruch, Der Sturm, Frankfurt 1888 [E. Pirazzi]; Z. Fibich, Bouře, Prague 1895 [J. Vrchlickŷ].

61 The Daily News, 15 June 1850. Quoted in: A.R. Young, Punch and Shakespeare in the Victorian Era, Berno 2007, p. 254.

62 The Times, 15 June 1850. Quoted in: ibid, p. 253.

63 The Illustrated London News, 15 June 1850.

64 H.F. Chorley, Thirty Years’ Musical Recollections, London 1862.

65 “The best singers in the company were assembled to give every possible strength and spirit to the drama. The Caliban of Lablache was alike remarkable as a piece of personation and of good taste. Had it not been so, the very hazardous scenes of the Monster’s persecution of Miranda could not have been allowed on the stage. In these, too, Madame Sontag’s delicacy and reserve stood the drama in good stead. The rest of the company had worked good with no less goodwill; the music had been studied to a nicety rarely attained since Signor Costa had left the theatre. There was rich and tasteful scenery”; ibid, pp. 118–119.

66 La Tempesta, an entirely new grand opera in three acts, with a proloque. The music composed by Halévy, the poem by Scribe, founded on “The Tempest” of Shakespeare and composed expressively for Her Majesty’s Theatre, London 1850.

67 The individual roles in the London staging of The Tempest were played by (as listed in La Tempesta, an entirely new grand opera…, op. cit., p. 3): Ariel – Mademoiselle Carlotta Grisi, Caliban – Signor Luigi Lablache, Miranda – Madame Henrietta Sontag, Alfonso – Signor Lorenzo, Prospero – Signor Colletti, Antonio – Signor F. Lablache, Ferdinand – Signor Baucarde, Trinculo – Signor Ferrari, Stephano – Mademoiselle Parodi, Sycorax – Mademoiselle Bertrand, Spirit of Air – Madame Giuliani.

68 Sontag was 44 when The Tempest premiered. In Her Majesty’s Theatre she substituted another famous soprano, Jenny Lind, who had emigrated to America after only three seasons spent in London. Henrietta Sontag sung in London in such operas as Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix, Rossini’s Othello, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro or Bellini’s The Daughter of the Regiment.

69 Luigi Lablache was undoubtedly one of the greatest opera singers of the 19th century. It is worth remembering that he performed a bass part of Mozart’s Requiem at the funeral of Fryderyk Chopin on 30 October 1849 at La Madeleine in Paris.

70 R.W. Schoch, Not Shakespeare: Bardolatry and Burlesque in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge 1999, p. 91.

71 See e.g. V.C. Clinton-Baddeley, The Burlesque Tradition in the English Theatre After 1660, London 1952.

72 See M.R. Booth, “Preface to The Enchanted Isle”, in English Plays of the Nineteenth Century, ed. M.R. Booth, v. 5, Oxford 1976, pp. 165–168. Booth points out that The Enchanted Isle was performed at Adelphi Theatre as many as 93 (!) times.

73 See R. Jordan, Fromental Halévy: His Life & Music, 1799–1862, New York 1996, p. 152.

74 See Ch.D. Hendley, Fromental Halévy’s La Tempesta: A Study in The Negotiation of Cultural Differences, Georgia 2005, p. 185, <http://ugakr.libs.uga.edu/bitstream/handle/10724/8290/hendley_christopher_d_200505_phd.pdf?sequence> [access: 12.06.2011].

75 Revue et Gazette Musicale de Paris, 16 March 1851: “A l’audition de certaines partitions de Bellini ou de Donizetti, les plus riches d’inspriations, la Sonnambula, Norma, Lucia di Lammermoor, quelque charmé que l’on puisse ètre par l’abondance des melodies, on sent que ces opéras, si justement admires d’ailleurs, ne s’élèvent pas à la hauteur des ouvrages dramatiques de premier order. Ce doute ne peut exister un instant pour Guillaume Tell, par example, Robert-le-Diable, les Huguenots, le Prophète, la Juive, Charles VI, et plusieurs autres ouvrages qui réunissent l’inspiration mélodique ce cachet de grandeur qui relève du style”; quoted in: Ch.D. Hendley, Fromental Halévy’s La Tempesta…, op. cit., p. 188.

76 The quotes from the libretto of Scribe and Halévy’s The Tempest, both in English and in Italian, come from the following edition: La Tempesta, an entirely new grand opera…, op. cit. The Roman numerals refer to the act while the Arabic numerals – to the scene.

77 See e.g.: P. Ginisty, Le Melodrame, Paris 1910, p. 53.

78 The name melodrama is in itself indicative of a significant role of music for this genre. In the 17th century the term melodrama was directly linked with the Italian opera, meaning sung drama, while in the 1760s the French comic opera started to be given the name. See P. Pavis, “Melodramat”, in Słownik terminów teatralnych, with an introduction by A. Ubersfeld, translated, edited and expanded by S. Świontek, Wrocław 1998, p. 285.

79 I make use here of Dobrochna Ratajczakowa’s expression, who defines in this way the French melodrama of the first thirty years of the 19th century. See D. Ratajczakowa, “Muzyka melodramatu”, De Musica, online magazine: <http://www.demusica.pl/pdf/ratajczakowa_zeszyt_francuski.pdf> [access: 15 June 2011].

80 It needs to be remembered that in accord with the Romantic philosophy of music, instrumental music was considered an art form reaching to the deepest levels of emotions. See for instance: E. Fubini, Historia estetyki muzycznej, trans. Z. Skowron, Cracow 1997, pp. 264–266, 281–288.

81 L. Tieck, O cudowności…, op. cit., pp. 48–49.

82 See Encyklopedia muzyki, ed. A. Chodkowski, 2nd edition with changes, Warsaw 2001, p. 527.

83 All the quotes from Tieck’s study come from the same edition (L. Tieck, O cudowności…, op. cit.), pp. 46, 52, 58, 60.

84 Cf. E. Nowicka, “Uwagi nad cudownością w operze”, in Omamienie – cudowność – afekt. Dramat w kręgu dziewiętnastowiecznych wyobrażeń i pojęć, Poznań 2003, especially pp. 181–187.

85 Interestingly, the allegorization process pertains neither to Ariel – who functions mostly as an observer and commentator of events – nor to Caliban – a mixture of diverse, oftentimes conflicting features and emotions (“With torments of fierce love/Which first shall I appease?” [“Mille desir mi premono/Nè so qual preferir”], II, 1). This brings to mind August Wilhelm Schlegel’s words, who – similarly to Ludwig Tieck – emphasized in his interpretation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest a clear contrast between Ariel and Caliban, yet did not imbue any of these characters with an allegorical role: “In the Zephyr-like Ariel the image of air is not to be mistaken, his name even bears an allusion to it; as, on the other hand, Caliban signifies the heavy element of earth. Yet they are neither of them allegorical personification, but beings individually determined”; A.W. Schlegel, Lectures on Dramatic…, op. cit., p. 180.

86 Michał Głowiński writes in an interesting way about the process as occurring in the poetry of Cyprian Norwid: “Ciemne alegorie Norwida”, Pamiętnik Literacki, 1984, no. 3.

87 The destructive role of allegory in the 19th-century literature was discussed, for example, by Walter Benjamin with reference to Baudelaire’s poetry (see W. Benjamin, “Park centralny”, in Anioł historii, ed. H. Orłowski, trans. K. Krzemieniowa et al., Poznań 1996). For a discussion of the exclusion of allegory from the 19th-century literature as a result of a redefinition of art as an unconscious creation of genius see: H.G. Gadamer, Truth and method, trans. J. Weinsheimer and D. G. Marshall, London 2013.

88 See E. Nowicka, Drama czarodziejska. Gry teatralne i filozoficzne, op. cit., pp. 17–25.

89 For a discussion of the diversity of such arts and the terminology used to denote them see ibid.

90 A. Kowalczykowa, “Wiktor Hugo w teatrze, czyli sztuka kompromisu,” in Dramat i teatr romantyczny, Warsaw 1997, p. 129.

91 E. Nowicka, op. cit., p. 60.

92 Ibid, p. 61.

93 L. Tieck, O cudowności.., op. cit., p. 57.

94 See A.W. Schlegel, Lectures on Dramatic…, op. cit., s. 180.

95 M.R. Booth, Hiss the Villain: Six English and American Melodramas, New York 1964, p. 9.

96 Cf. D. Ratajczakowa, Muzyka melodramatu, op. cit., p. 2.

97 Cf. P. Ginisty, Le Melodrame, op. cit., pp. 14–15; G. Gengembre, Le théâtre français au 19e siècle (1789–1900), Paris 1999, p. 131; D. Ratajczakowa, Muzyka melodramatu, op. cit., p. 2.

3 Fear of the Unknowable: Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth

The tragedy of the Shakespearean Macbeth unfolds against the backdrop of gloomy and upsetting tones. The tumult of the battle concurs with the resonant sounds of trumpets and drums. Duncan’s royal procession is led by the piercing sounds of the oboes, played by the musicians positioned in front of Macbeth’s castle. The melancholic music of the instruments coincides also with the preparations for Duncan’s last feast. The sounds irritating the senses – the ringing of a distant bell, the hooting of an owl, the chirping of crickets, persistent pounding at the door – accompany Macbeth’s visions and hallucinations on the fateful night of the first murder. In the open fields and dark moors, demonic songs of the witches can be heard over the rumble of the thunders, while the striking of lightning illuminates their ghastly dances. The music of the witches constantly remains at the service of magic: both the dances performed three times multiplied by three times across the moorland and then around the boiling cauldron full of abominations, as well as the song “Black Spirits” sung over the cauldron. Hecate commands the witches: “And now about the cauldron sing,/Like elves and fairies in a ring,/Enchanting all that you put in” (IV, 1).

The hollow pounding on the drums, the echoes of royal fanfares, the piercing sound of the oboes and the demonic songs of the witches lead Macbeth’s reader and viewer into the world lacking sweet tones of love declarations, the subtlety of the natural world’s sounds or the soothing tones of elves’ music. It should be noted that the most often adapted Shakespearean plays in the history of the opera – Romeo and Juliet and The Tempest – include elements completely absent in the drama on the Scottish magnate, that is the story of passionate love and a vision of the world immersed in music imbued with magical qualities. Perhaps this absence was one of the main reasons for the reluctance of the opera composers to take up Macbeth. What is more, among several operas based on this Shakespearean tragedy, the majority played a marginal role in the history of the genre and are now completely forgotten. Out of the four 19th-century operas on Macbeth (Hippolyte Chélard’s Macbeth, premiere: Paris 1827; Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth, premiere: Florence 1847 and Paris 1865; Wilhelm Taubert’s Macbeth, premiere: Berlin 1857; and Lauro Rossi’s Biorn, premiere: London ←67 | 68→1877)98 only one – Verdi’s Macbeth – made a name for itself as a canonical operatic masterpiece.

The first version of the opera was created in 1847. Initially, the composer was considering three texts on which to base his new opera to be prepared specifically for the Teatro della Pergola in Florence: these were Grillparzer’s The Ancestress, Schiller’s The Robbers and Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Shakespeare’s text was chosen due to the fact that the great baritone Felice Varesi could be engaged in the premiere: the role of Macbeth could well be sung by a baritone, while the remaining two plays would require a skilful tenor in the main role, not available in the Florence theatre99. The great enthusiasm that Verdi felt while working on the musical score, evinced also in his rich correspondence with the librettists Francesco Maria Piave and Andrea Maffei100, stemmed from his overt admiration or even adoration of the Shakespearean drama. Verdi read Shakespeare’s plays in the first Italian edition of Shakespeare’s oeuvre, skilfully translated by Carlo Rusconi,101. The composer’s first attempt at taking up Shakespeare’s text was very successful. The premiere at the Teatro della Pergola on 14 March 1847 was a huge success, with Marianna Barbieri-Nini performing alongside Varesi. The composer was called onto the stage a few times after the curtain was dropped and several pieces (among others, the duets “Fatal mia donna” and “Gran Scena del sonnambulismo”) were played as encore. Soon Macbeth was presented at other European theatres, for example in Madrid in 1848, and in Vienna and Warsaw in 1849.

←68 | 69→

When in 1863 the impresario of the Parisian Thèâtre-Lyrique, Lèon Carvalho, showed interest in Macbeth, Verdi decided to radically revise his work. He wrote almost the whole score anew, in many places modifying only the part of the orchestra, while in others reworking both the vocal part and the musical accompaniment. The most important revisions include undoubtedly the new version of the Scottish exiles’ choir in Act Four (initially, it was construed following the model of the choir Va pensiero of Nabucca – a “patriotic” choir sung in unison), foretelling with its scope and harmonic originality the greatest fragments of Verdi’s final works, and the reworking of the opera’s end, in which Macbeth’s last monologue (“Mal per me”) has been replaced with an instrumental piece in the form of a fugue illustrating the battle and with a concluding choir of the victors. In the Parisian version of Macbeth a few completely new elements were included: Lady Macbeth’s aria “La luce langue” replaced the initial “Trionfai” aria from Act Two, the duet of the spouses “Ora di morte e di vendetta” replaced Macbeth’s aria “Vada in fiamme” ending Act Three, while ballet – an indispensable part of each opera staged in the French capital – was added to the scene with the witches at the beginning of Act Three. What is interesting, one of the few fragments of the 1847 Macbeth left completely unchanged is the scene of Lady Macbeth’s cataleptic dream (“Gran scena del sonnambulismo”), justifiably perceived as perfect. The 1865 version was considered by the composer to be final and it is this version that has been staged to this day (with a few exceptions).

The Paris premiere of Macbeth took place on 19 April 1865 after many preparations. Though positively received by the public, the opera was not highly regarded by critics, just as was the case with the 1847 Florence premiere. Verdi felt saddened by that and stressed the inaccuracy of the charges of his alleged lack of understanding of the Shakespearean drama:

Puo darsi, che io non abbia reso bene il Macbet, ma che io non conosco, che non capisco e che non sento Shacpeare [sic!], no, per Dio, no. E un poeta di mia predilezione, che ho avuto fra le mani dalla mia prima gioventu e che leggo e rileggo continuamente102.

[It may be assumed that I haven’t rendered Shakespeare accurately, but that I don’t know, that I don’t understand and that I don’t feel Shakespeare, no, God, no. He is a poet I adore, whose books have been in my hands since youth, whom I read continuously and always anew.]

The 20th-century analyses of Verdi’s Macbeth likewise contain many critical remarks on the composer’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s play. Scholars emphasized ←69 | 70→the truly Shakespearean dramaturgy of some fragments of the opera, for instance the scene with the dagger or the somnambulist dream of lady Macbeth103, yet they indicated also fragments that were not in accord with their dramatic predecessor or that even parodied Shakespeare’s play, among others, the murderers’ chorus “Sparve il sol” in Act Two or scenes with the witches, composed following the style of opera buffa. Analysing the two versions of Macbeth, Winton Dean wrote in his essay “Shakespeare and Opera” in 1963:

So many of the poorer features were allowed to survive the revision. These include the buffo march (…) for the entry of Duncan, the chorus of Banquo’s murderers, absurd alike in its verbal, musical and dramatic aspects, and most of the Witches’ music. Verdi not only treated the Witches as a comedy chorus but increased their prominence to the detriment of the drama, giving them a superfluous number at the end of the first scene.104

A more profound reflection on the scenes that seem aesthetically distant from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, such as the scene with the witches, enables a verification of such statements. Verdi was not mistaken when he wrote to Escudier that he knew and understood Shakespeare; a testimony to the truth of his claim can be found in the way he presented the witches and the musical traces of their presence in the whole opera. To properly understand Verdi’s thoughtful and consistent construction of the witches, it is necessary to first analyse the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and in the sources that the playwright might have used while creating the witches scenes, and, most importantly, to refer to the Romantic reception of Shakespeare’s works and the canons of opera staging in Verdi’s times.

Literary historians mention Raphael Holinshed’s The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland as Shakespeare’s primary source of inspiration and knowledge for the creation of Macbeth105: the book includes the story of Macbeth, ←70 | 71→the ruler of Scotland between 1040 and 1057. The book mentions witches and wizards several times: Holinshed cites the witches’ conversation with Banquo and Macbeth right after the victorious battle, he mentions the warning against Macduff given to Macbeth by “some wizards”, he notes down predictions concerning Birnam Wood and lack of danger from any man born from a woman that Macbeth heard from “some witch”106. In his play, Shakespeare makes the three witches utter all of these predictions, thereby intensifying their power. He introduces a significant modification, though: presented in Holinshed’s chronicles as the murderous Macbeth’s ruthless ally, Banquo becomes in Shakespeare’s play a positive character, marked by nobility that enables him to withstand satanic temptation. As Stephen Greenblatt convincingly argues, Shakespeare’s transformation of this character was an element of a veiled but legible flattery towards the ruling King James I, whose dynasty was derived from the legendary Banquo107. The ennoblement of James’s antecedent in Shakespeare’s play was an ennoblement of the current monarch himself as another one in the succession of righteous rulers. Another subtle sign that Shakespeare wished to gain the king’s approval for Macbeth was a direct allusion to the welcome spectacle prepared for James I in Oxford during his stay there between 27 and 31 August 1605108. A miniature show, written by Matthew Gwinn, a former lecturer at St. John’s College, presented three sybils emerging from the woods and recollecting the history of the king’s ancestor Banquo, to whom three “ominous sisters” foretold never-ending power. The antiphon that the Shakespearean witches welcome Macbeth and Banquo with in the moor bears a striking resemblance to the greeting that the sybils extended to King James during the Oxford spectacle. On account of this reference, Banquo’s rectitude, contrasted in Shakespeare’s tragedy with Macbeth’s wickedness, and a clearly sketched vision of Banquo’s succession can be treated as overt signs of pandering to James I’s royal ambitions.

The fact that Shakespeare transformed the charming character of the Oxford show into a fear-evoking one justly causes some doubts. Unlike delicate, tiny sybils, Shakespeare’s witches abound in off-putting features. The playwright might have been inspired in this respect by treatises about witchcraft, frequently published at the end of the 16th century, especially the study Malleus maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches) by two Dominican inquisitors, Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, and Reginald Scot’s book The Discovery of Witchcraft, published ←71 | 72→in 1584109. Kramer and Sprenger’s conviction that demons are able to evoke commotion in human minds – which causes hidden ideas to surface and reveal themselves to the powers of fantasy and imagination so that people start to believe these are true110 – can easily be attributed to Shakespeare’s witches. The capabilities of the witches mentioned by Scot – and treated by him as made up by poets – are used by Shakespeare frequently and with pleasure: the playwright endows his witches with the power of casting spells, causing darkness during the daytime or being invisible. The ambiguity and delusiveness of the witches’ predictions and the emphasis on their lack of complete independence lead in turn to a different possible source: the scholarly treatise about witchcraft titled Daemonologie and authored by King James I himself (written in 1597 and published in 1603).

“Good sir, why do you start and seem to fear/Things that do sound so fair?” (I, 3) – Banquo voices his astonishment at the sight of his companion’s terror caused by the witches’ greeting. The tremor that passes through Macbeth as the words of the seemingly positive prophecy are uttered heralds the beginning of the destruction of his virtues. The shudder symbolizes anxiety generated by the ambiguity of the witches’ conduct and words and a silent question about the role played in Macbeth by these mysterious prophetesses. It is a sign of a sense of danger whose source cannot be determined, a feeling lurking somewhere between the borders of human mind, imagination, memory and a series of external impulses. “And nothing is/But what is not” (I, 3) – says Macbeth after the disappearance of the witches.

The ambiguity of the witches was one of the main reasons for the interest in Macbeth at the end of the 18th century and in the first decades of the 19th century. This is reflected in statements and treatises present within European literatures. “The witches in Macbeth derive their value from the force of the imagination”, wrote Goethe in Shakespeare and No End111. Tieck noted in his “Shakespeare’s Treatment of the Marvellous” that “we completely fail to understand these extraordinary figures that we perceive suddenly and with no preparation”112. Madame de Staël concluded in her De la Littérature that “these are ←72 | 73→no mythological figures that would impose on people their alleged judgment or their cold nature… these are wonders from dreams that accompany turbulent passions”113. In his Viennese series of lectures on dramatic art and literature August Wilhelm Schlegel argued that “the witches are merely instruments, they are governed by an invisible spirit”114. The emphasis on the role of imagination in the interpretation of Shakespeare’s witches and their analysis in the context of the existence of invisible, supernatural forces or the power of human illusions and passions appears also in the writings of Polish critics, particularly those that evince the clash of Classical and Romantic tendencies. The daring challenge to Shakespeare’s supporters made by Jan Śniadecki in his “O pismach klasycznych i romantycznych” [“On Classical and Romantic Writings”], in which the acclaimed critic explicitly disapproved of “witches’ trysts, their sorcery and omens” in Shakespeare’s drama that were adverse both to the humankind and the stage115, generated a firm and inspiring defence of Shakespeare’s plays. Among many voices positively or even enthusiastically assessing Shakespeare’s oeuvre, especially Hamlet, Othello and Macbeth, the statements of Kazimierz Brodziński and Maurycy Mochnacki are particularly worthy of attention. Brodziński saw in Macbeth signs of great knowledge of human nature and of “the voice of feeling”, and in this context he wrote enthusiastically about the scene of Lady Macbeth’s catalepsy in “Kilka uwag o tragedii francuskiej” [“Some Remarks on French Tragedy”]116. Taking up the motif of witches, Brodziński analysed the presentation of fate in the play and the significance of the characters’ premonition and of fantastic images. “Shakespeare seeks fate in a person’s very heart”, he concluded, “when he shows the heart as strange, hesitant, uncertain, he teaches us to ponder without awe on the strangeness of predestination”117. The essence of fate ←73 | 74→in Macbeth was aptly clarified by Maurycy Mochnacki, who considered the play the most significant in Shakespeare’s oeuvre, alongside Othello and Hamlet118. According to the critic, the fate in the tragedy on the Scottish magnate, personified by the witches, does not have the absolute power of ancient fate, for a person – endowed with conscience and free will – may take up the fight against evil; hence, Macbeth might have rejected the witches’ predictions:

In Christianity, the ancient image of fate needed to yield to the higher order, more congruent with the goodness of the Creator; in our times the goal of tragedy likewise changed. Lured by the whisper of the witches, Macbeth commits an unheard-of deed; these hellish beings initiate his other crimes as well. Their power, however, could not be more different from the ancient fatum. It does not have this awful, indefinite span, as Macbeth could have mistrusted the ominous auguries. Shakespeare introduces here onto the stage the image of satanic wickedness. The general thought of the tragedy is that evil spirits look with jealous anguish upon the greatness and splendour in moral character. This way a man has been released from the yoke of external compulsion. His will is no longer determined by unchanged necessity and he should fight only against his own passions. What role fate played in Greek tragedies is now played by untamed passions119.

As Mochnacki sees it, the character of the tragedy was altered in Shakespeare’s drama because of the influence of Christian faith, and the unchangeability of ←74 | 75→predestination was replaced by ungovernable human passions120. To a large extent, Mochnacki’s stance is similar to Schlegel’s reading of Macbeth, whereby necessity and predestination in the play are not identical to the ancient Greek fatum for their fall under the influence of Providence:

We might believe that we witness in this tragedy the over-ruling destiny of the ancients entirely according to their ideas: the whole originates in a supernatural influence, to which the subsequent events seem inevitably linked. We even find again here the same ambiguous oracles, which, by their literal fulfilment, deceive those who confide in them. Yet it may be shown that the poet has displayed more enlightened views in his work. He wishes to show that the conflict of good and evil in this world can only take place by the permission of Providence, which converts the curse that individual mortals draw down on their heads into a blessing to others121.

Not identifying the witches with the ancient fate, Mochnacki concluded that the witches in Macbeth are a sign of satanic temptation surrounding an imperfect man torn by ambitions and of a fantastic embodiment of his visions and desires. Mochnacki repeated and clarified this conviction in his review of Friedrich Schiller’s Wallenstain, terming Shakespeare’s Macbeth “a victim of fantasies, a victim of the luring of pride, a victim of a pact of evil spirits”122. Phantoms of imagination, untamed human ambitions, satanic temptation – this is what the Shakespearean witches are made of, according to Mochnacki, “these tools serving the hell’s undertaking, these entities of storm, steep rocks and distant abodes that reveal themselves to Macbeth in cloudy mistiness”123. Mochnacki’s words bring to mind the interpretations put forward by Italian studies of that time referring to Shakespeare, especially those of Hermes Visconti and Alessandro Manzoni (the latter being, nota bene, Verdi’s friend), who emphasized the importance of passions in Macbeth and of “pathetic, albeit fulfilled, cruelty of ambition that went beyond a sense of justice”124.

←75 | 76→

“The cloudy mistiness” blurring the shape of Shakespeare’s witches was exacerbated due to the multiple interpretations of these characters. The question of the witches’ ontological status and their impact on the evolution of the plot in Macbeth, repeatedly posed by the Romantic critics, remained without a clear answer. The perception of the witches in Shakespeare’s tragedy as beings poised between reality and unreality, in the magma of sensual feelings and irrational impressions, was in accord with the early-Romantic vision of reality as a mysterious and unknowable combination of the elements of the real and the supernatural worlds. Shakespeare’s witches take their place among other literary characters – whose primary feature is their unknowability – illustrating the above-mentioned conviction, such as Goethe’s nymph in The Fisherman, Mickiewicz’s Świtezianka or the lad in Malczewski’s Maria. It should be noted at this point that the witches in Macbeth, the symbols of the fluidity of borders between beings, have a feature typical of many Romantic literary characters coming from the supernatural world: they have the capacity of functioning even when they disappear. Having seemingly played their part, they remain in one’s memory, in provoked ambitions, in dreams come back to life, in sparks of consciousness reading chance as the inevitability of predestination. It is this crucial feature of Shakespeare’s witches – so perfectly capturing the Romantic anxiety related to the awareness of the existence of astonishing, extraordinary and astounding elements in reality that only seems fully known, familiar and harmonious – that was well understood and conveyed in Verdi’s opera about Macbeth. Undoubtedly, it is important in this context that the composer was familiar with Schlegel’s interpretation of Macbeth, as he read Schlegel’s lectures translated into Italian by Giovanni Gherardi (published in Milan in 1817 as Corso di letteratura drammatica), analysed them and deployed Schlegel’s interpretation while working on the libretto to his opera125.

The witches scene opening the opera’s first act (emulating quite accurately the third scene from Act One of Shakespeare’s Macbeth; subtle – yet crucial – differences between these scenes in Verdi’s and Shakespeare’s works will be discussed later) deploys several expressions describing these characters. The answers that Banquo tries to formulate in response to his own question: “Chi siete voi?/Di questo mondo o d’altra regione?” [“Who are you?/Of this world, ←76 | 77→or from some other place?”]126 include primarily the suggestions of the witches’ satanic provenance (“l’empio Spirito”; “l’inferno”), their relations with the supernatural world (“creature fantastiche”) and with predestination (“il fato”). In the first scene of the opera’s Act Three, the witches themselves emphasize the unknowability of the world they come from when they ask the prediction-desiring Macbeth: “Dalle incognite Posse udire lo vuoi,/Cui minister obbediam, ovver da noi?” [“Would you rather hear it from the unknown Powers,/whom we obey as masters, or from us?”] (III, 1). In the analogous scene in Shakespeare’s play only the witches’ “masters” are mentioned: “Say, if thou’dst rather hear it from our mouths/Or from our masters?” (IV, 1). In light of the fact that this part of libretto is very faithful to Shakespeare’s tragedy, the substitution of the word “masters” with the expression “incognite Posse” – placing emphasis on the indeterminacy and unknowability of extra-terrestrial powers that the witches serve – clearly accentuates the unknowability of the witches themselves. This slight – yet consequential – intervention of the librettist testifies to Verdi’s attention to each word of the libretto, in accord with the composer’s own admonition when he wrote laconically in the first letter to Piave after receiving the preliminary version of the text: “More succinctly!… Fewer words!… Do you understand?” [“Stile conciso!… Poche parole!… hai capito?”]127.

The uncertainty of cognition and the anxiety that is inextricably connected with it almost constantly accompany the characters of Verdi’s opera communing with the witches. Having disappeared from the stage, the witches exist in Macbeth’s memory, which is moved by their words, and in the visions of the future they have created. The signals of their presence resonate in Lady Macbeth’s dreams and create a disconcerting aura around the deaths of the murderous couple’s innocent victims. Verdi indicates this disquieting presence very consistently through the musical language, introducing in the scenes in which the witches do not appear the scales attributed to them at the very beginning of the opera: A minor and A major as well as E minor and E major128. The E scale is deployed, for instance, ←77 | 78→when the witches utter their final prophecy addressed to Macbeth in the initial scene of the opera, greeting the Thane of Glamis and Cawdor as the future King of Scotland: “Salve, o Macbetto, di Scozia re!”. The E major key recurs in other scenes with witches, for example in their demonic waltz in the ballet scene in Act Three. The scenes in which the witches are not present and exist only through musical suggestions form a very interesting pattern. To give a few examples, it is in E major that Lady Macbeth reads a letter from her husband about astounding and mysterious predictions, concluding: “Ambizioso spirto tu sei, Macbetto…” [“Ambitious of soul you are, Macbeth…”] and indicating this way the contingence of the effectiveness of the satanic temptation on human ambitions. The directness of this statement (the relation is somewhat more veiled in the analogous monologue in Shakespeare’s play) proves the consistency with which the witches are presented in Verdi’s Macbeth as unknowable powers composed of, on the one hand, the tissue of diabolic whispers, but, on the other hand, of the most secret human aspirations. Another clear proof of Verdi’s consistency is the aria “La luce langue” (the fragment that does not have its counterpart in Shakespeare’s tragedy), sung by Lady Macbeth in E major; this way, the mysterious prediction still resonates in the murderer’s conviction that subsequent murders are absolutely necessary (“Nuovo delitto! È necessario!/Compiersi debbe l’opra fatale!” [“A new crime! Needs must! Necessity drives!/The fatal deed must be concluded!”]). E major is also deployed in the scene of Banquo’s murder; in light of the fact that the scene is preceded by the monologue of the future victim recalling the image of the dead King Duncan, the musical sign of the witches’ presence in this fragment marks their role as harbingers of death. Perhaps most intriguingly, the opera’s final chorus of the victors is also written in the scales reserved for the witches (in A major and E major). The perception of the witches as a symbol of satanic temptation going hand in hand with human ambitions generates justified anxiety and does not allow one to interpret the conclusion of the opera as the restoration of the harmony in the world, whose order is disturbed by untamed ambitions.

The figures of the witches made it possible for Verdi not only to emphasize the Romantic anxiety related to the non-transparency of being but also to intensify the spectacularity of his show. Replacing the three Shakespearean witches with three groups of witches enabled him the creation of impressive group scenes with the participation of an enlarged choir. Since the first version of Macbeth was created in the 1840s, this fact can easily be interpreted through the prism of the ←78 | 79→operatic convention of that time, subjugated to Romantic staging whose major premises were generating awe and a sense of terror through the multiplication of stage effects and introducing crowds onto the stage. The witches’ ballet in Act Three, added in the second version of the opera at the request of Lèon Carvalho, the director of the Thèâtre-Lyrique, where the revised Macbeth had its premiere, was to make the show even more spectacular and attractive. Probably for this reason, the librettist and the composer decided to introduce other fantastic creatures, absent in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. For example, at the end of the scene of prediction, initiating the third act of Verdi’s opera, the witches encircling in a demonic dance the fainted Macbeth call aerial and water nymphs for help:

Ondine e Silfidi dall’ali candide,

Su quella pallida fronte spirate.

Tessete in vortice carole armoniche,

E sensi ed anima gli confortate.

[Oh elfs, ye sylphides, with what darting wings

Do ye brush against and cool his tired limbs.

Waft far from him all that may lie heavy on his heart,

And stroke him gently with the white of your plumage.]

(III, 1)

The figures of undines and sylphs, in Verdi’s opera called on by the witches to bring Macbeth back to consciousness after his reaction to inauspicious prediction, were well known to the 19th-century opera-viewing public. To prove this, it is enough to mention Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann’s opera Undine (premiere: Berlin, 3 August 1816), based on the Romantic fairy tale Undine by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, enthusiastically received from its very beginning, undoubtedly also due to the stage design by Karl Friedrich Schinkel129, or Adolphe Nourrit’s ballet The Sylph, with the music of Jean Schneitzhoffer (premiere: Paris, 12 March 1832), enjoying unprecedented popularity in many European theatres and establishing the canon for Romantic ballet. Significantly, the characters in Hoffmann’s and Nourrit’s works definitely represented positive fantastic beings, ←79 | 80→symbolizing the ideal of romantic love, transcending the borders of earthly life, and supernatural justice manifested in the powers of nature. This found its reflection in Verdi’s opera: the choir of witches calling undines and sylphs makes use of the G major key and is devoid of the gloom erstwhile attributed to the witches. It is on a higher musical scale that witches manifest their wish to help Macbeth overwhelmed by the vision of the future, the only time in the whole opera showing their “lighter” face and deepening – though it is difficult to determine if it was by a conscious decision of the composer – the feature of ambiguity attributed to them and repeatedly emphasized in the opera.

The choir of Verdi’s witches in Macbeth needs to be perceived not only from the perspective of the spectacular character of the 19th-century theatre and the expectations of the theatre-goers but also from the perspective of the Romantic reading of Shakespeare’s works. The grotesque effect that Verdi achieved writing the witches’ parts in buffo stands in marked contrast to the tragic character marking the framework of the real world in the opera. The solemn words of Banquo, asking about the essence of the truth hidden in diabolic whispers, and of Macbeth, torn by doubts and terror, are contrasted with the clamour of hell speaking in grotesque. The fusion of two musical styles – serio and buffo – in the witches scenes perfectly captures the Romantic understanding of Shakespeare’s art as a combination of heterogeneous generic features and aesthetic categories. As Victor Hugo wrote in his “Preface to Cromwell”, “Shakespeare is the drama; and the drama, which with the same breath moulds the grotesque and the sublime, the terrible and the absurd, tragedy and comedy”130. The scene of Banquo’s murder in Verdi’s opera can be perceived in a similar manner: the contrast between the elevated style of Banquo’s monologue and the grotesque chorus of the murderers is a perfect reflection of the Romantic perception of Shakespeare’s drama as an art revealing the hybridity of reality.

The introduction to Verdi’s opera, in which Macbeth and Banquo are greeted by the witches with an obscure prophecy, is noteworthy due to one more reason, namely the juxtaposition of the two characters which is way more clear than in Shakespeare’s text. In the Elizabethan play, both Macbeth and Banquo – astonished in the wake of a bizarre encounter – raise in their comments the question of truth. Banquo begs the witches to reveal the future to him “in the name of truth” and wonders if the devil can be a bearer of truth [“Can the devil speak true?”], while Macbeth says that “two truths are told” when the predictions are ←80 | 81→partly fulfilled and when he realizes the ambiguity of the prophecy in the context of truth’s relation to the categories of good and evil:

MACBETH:

This supernatural soliciting

Cannot be ill; cannot be good. If ill

Why hath it given me earnest of success,

Commencing in a truth? I am Thane of Cawdor.

If good, why do I yield to that suggestion

Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair

And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,

Against the use of nature?

(I, 3)

Piave’s libretto lacks these statements of Macbeth. It is only Banquo who reflects on the truth hidden or falsified in the witches’ predictions. “L’inferno il ver parlò!” [“Than the devil spoke true!”], cries Banquo, formulating Shakespeare’s question as an astounding fact. This does not mean, however, that Banquo is free of doubts, which are presented in the opera in a sentence strictly modelled on the Shakespearean one:

Ma spesso l’empio Spirito d’averno

Parla, e c’inganna, veraci detti,

E ne abbandona poi maledetti

Su quell’abisso che ci scavo.

[But often the evil spirit of hell

Tells us truths in order to betray us,

Biographical notes

Alina Borkowska-Rychlewska (Author)

Alina Borkowska-Rychlewska is an Associate Professor at the Department of Romanticism of the Institute of Polish Studies at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland. Her research focuses on the 19th-century opera, Romantic theatre and music criticism, and the history of Polish literature of Romanticism.

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Title: Shakespeare in 19th-Century Opera