25 jaar geleden kon ik kennismaken zowel met een nieuwe versie op CD door Nikolaus Harnoncourt van Felix Mendelssohns “Mittsommernachtstraum”, als met een spetterende toneelversie door studenten van het conservatorium van Brussel. Alhoewel het hier nog studenten betrof, werd de versie van Harnoncourt toch ruimschoots overtroffen, waaruit bleek dat dit op de eerste plaats “theatermuziek” is, waarbij men dus ook een beetje aandacht moet besteden aan de dramatische en de humoristische of samengevat de visuele aspecten van een uitvoering.
“Ein Sommernachtstraum” van Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy wordt ook altijd als “bekend” verondersteld, maar bij nader inzien blijkt dat dan toch enkel de fameuze “bruiloftsmars” te zijn, die een hit werd sedert het huwelijk van de dochter van koningin Victoria (die zelf ook Victoria heette) met Frederik van Pruisen op 25 januari 1858.
Voor de rest is de compositie van Mendelssohn uiteraard gebaseerd op het stuk van Shakespeare, dat op zijn beurt almost certainly was written for a marriage. Hence the two endings: the first one, the fairy mask, was for the original purpose. The second (Puck’s epilogue) was meant for public performance.
The story comes out of Shakespeare’s own fantasy, but is indebted to “The life of Theseus” (Plutarch), “The knight’s tale” (Geoffrey Chaucer), “Metamorphoses” (Ovid), “Discovery of Witchcraft” (Scot) and to Elizabethan folk-lore.
Scene 1: a room in the palace of Theseus
In four days Theseus and Hippolyta will be married. Egeus is complaining to him because Hermia won’t marry Demetrius (she prefers Lysander). Theseus’ sentence is: she’ll have to marry him or she wil die or enter a cloister.
When they are alone they decide that they will marry in a village near Athens, where Theseus has no power. They tell their plans to Helena, who, however, intends to tell it to Demetrius, because she thinks that she will win his love back this way.
Scene 2: a room in a cottage
Some inhabitants have prepared a masque for the wedding of Theseus. Nick Bottom will play Pyramus, Francis Flute Thisby (although he’s growing a beard), Robin Starveling Thisby’s mother, Tom Snout Pyramus’ father and Peter Quince Thisby’s father. They will rehearse in the wood.
Scene 1: the wood
Puck and a fairy are talking about the quarrel between Oberon and Titania because of an Indian boy that Titania has in her train, while Oberon would have liked to have him in his.
Scene 2: the wood
Oberon and Titania quarrel. When she’s gone, Oberon asks Puck to fetch him a flower, accidentally struck by Cupid’s bow, that has the power to make one love the next thing one sees, when the balm has touched one’s eyes. He intends to do this with Titania, hoping that the next thing she’ll see, will be an animal. while Puck is gone, Oberon also overhears a discussion between Helena and Demetrius, so that, when Puck’s returned, Oberon commands him to strike the balm on Demetrius’ eyes.
Scene 3: another part of the wood
Puck makes a mistake: he puts the balm on the eyes of Lysander, sleeping in the wood with Hermia. Helena and Demetrius pass without seeing them. They quarrel and Demetrius leaves Helena alone. Then she sees Lysander and she wakes him. Of course he falls desperately in love with her. She thinks, however, that he’s scorning her and she flees from him. He runs after her. Finally, Hermia awakes and finding that Lysander has gone, she goes after him.
Scene 1: the wood
The clowns are rehearsing (they speak in prose, the others in verse). Puck bewitches Bottom, so that he has an ass-head. The others fly from him. Then Titania awakes and falls in love with the ass.
Scene 2: another part of the wood
Oberon sees the mistake of Puck and wants to mend it, therefore he puts the liquor on the eyes of Demetrius, when Helena passes. But now Lysander and Demetrius are rivals again, but now in wooing Helena. When Hermia enters, Helena accuses her of leading this complot. Hermia, however, gets an inferiority complex, because she thinks that Lysander fell in love with Helena because she’s taller, and wants to attack her. Lysander and Demetrius also decide to duel. Puck is now ordered to mislead them, so that they cannot fight. When at last everyone falls asleep, Puck puts a herb on the eyes of Lysander, whereby the effect of the previous herb is undone.
Scene 1: the wood
Oberon does the same with Titania after having obtained from her the Indian boy. Then Theseus, Egeus a.o. arrive in the forest and discover the four lovers sleeping on the ground. When they awake, they talk about the things that have happened as if it were a dream (Freudian implications). Theseus decides that now that there are no problems anymore, Demetrius will wed Helena this very day and Lysander will do the same with Hermia, while he himself is also to marry. Botom, without his ass’s head, awakes also.
Scene 2: Athens – a room in Quince’s house
The clowns are desperate: the feast is about to begin and Bottom hasn’t shown up yet. He enters, however, in the middle of their conversation, so that they can start.
Scene 1: an apartment in the palace of Theseus
The three couples are married and the clowns perform their play, which is humorously commented by the spectators. The lay is about Thisbe and Pyramus, who have to meet in secret, but Pyramus is a little late only to find the mantle of Thisby, torn by a lion. He think’s she’s dead and commits suicide. Then she enters and commits suicide too.
Quite a useless epilogue by Puck, while Oberon and Titania sing and dance.