Thursday, August 16, 2012

Berlioz, the Bard and their Bounty

Of the great figures and ideas that inspired the romantics we may include among others - nature, night, the feminine, death, mythology, medievalism and William Shakespeare. It is hard for us to imagine in this age of global and almost instantaneous communication that only going back 150 years that much of the information of the world was largely un-translated. Many classics of the Greek and Latin literature were expected to be read in the original languages. So the artists effected a change; the professional translation business as we understand it today was largely a creation of the romantics. In many cases into the early twentieth century operas were presented (before the age of digital projection and the supertitle) in the language of the country to which it traveled. Hence Il Sigfrido or Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor (Otto Nicolai‘s The Merry Wives of Windsor) and many operas (into the 1950’s) presented at the Met in English in hopes of attracting a greater audience.
courtesy of Wikipedia
It was from the travelling troupes of British actors that Berlioz and many of the early romantics encountered the living word of Shakespeare. From Goethe to Mendelssohn the effect was life changing. For Berlioz in the late 1820’s he was so overwhelmed he actually married one of the actresses he saw on stage, Harriet Smithson when her theatre company visited Paris. Many great works flowed from this encounter including Romeo and Juliet, some scenes from Hamlet inspired a vocal work and from Much Ado About Nothing - the opera Beatrice et Benedict. Coming in the 1860’s as a creative relaxation after Berlioz's monumental labor of Les Troyens in the 1850’s. It is witty, epigrammatic in length (it’s not even ninety minutes!) and takes as its subject the battle of the sexes. Two couples are contrasted; Hero and Claudio, very much in love and intent on marriage after war. They and their friends correctly suspect that the confirmed bachelor Benedict and the sharp tongued and combative Beatrice are really two erotic warriors fearful of confessing their mutual affections until friends come to their aid to effect a union.
The short opera contains much beautiful music including the ravishing night piece Nuit Paisble:
Nuit paisble et sereine!
La lune douce reine,
Serene and peaceful night!
The moon, queen of grace,
Smiling as she rides;
The range and variety of Berlioz vocal writing is truly astonishing. I fill out the balance of Saturday Afternoon at the Opera after our short Beatrice and Benedict with arias, ensembles , choruses and classic instrumental interpretations that range from Monteux to Colin Davis, Frederica von Stade and von Otter to Crespin and Vickers . 
Join in the Berlioz bounty this Saturday at noon for Berlioz Plus, beginning with the complete Beatrice and Benedict, here on KPAC and KTXI. 
by Ron Moore

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