"Le songe d'une nuit d'été" Top 5 Page for this destination Geneva by Nemorino
Geneva Travel Guide: 1,063 reviews and 2,389 photos
In the summer of 1595 -- or maybe it was 1596, nobody knows for sure -- a young English playwright woke up from a weird and wonderful dream and started writing it all down as fast as he could, before the dream faded.
In this dream the Duke of Athens, Theseus, is preparing to marry Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons. Most improbably, a group of Athenian artisans with no acting experience, Peter Quince the carpenter, Nick Bottom the weaver, Francis Flute the bellows-mender, Robin Starveling the tailor, Tom Snout the tinker and Snug the joiner, all decide to put on a play at the Duke's wedding. They meet secretly in a nearby forest to rehearse, unaware that the forest is inhabited by all manner of faeries and elves with names like Peaseblossom, Cobweb and Mustardseed who are ruled by a King, Oberon, and a Queen, Titania, and kept stirred up by a mischievous hobgoblin, Puck, who delights in sowing confusion among humans and faeries alike.
Meanwhile the beauteous Hermia and her lover Lysander have decided to flee through this same forest at night to prevent Hermia from being put to death for refusing to marry her father's friend Demetrius, who hears of their elopement and follows them into the forest, himself pursued by another lovely young woman, Helena, who is in love with Demetrius. (OK so far?)
Puck nearly causes a catastrophe (or several) by strewing his love-potion into the wrong people's eyes, so that Queen Titania falls in love with Nick Bottom the weaver, who has acquired a donkey's head, while Lysander and Demetrius fight over Helena, in whom neither had shown much interest before. Not to be outdone, gentle Hermia and sweet Helena have an all-out brawl in the woods over one of the guys, I forget which one.
When the artisans start performing their play they of course make a total mess of it, which is no wonder since they have never done such a thing before in their lives, but the bemused Duke offers them gentle encouragement and in the end they get through the play with their dignity more or less intact, which is an unspectacular but reasonably happy ending.
I must confess that I have long considered William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream to be a sprawling hodge-podge that would have to be cut by three-quarters of an hour if it was ever going to work on the stage. But then on a magic midsummer night in a crumbling Orangerie in a park in a Geneva I saw a very nearly complete and unabridged production in a French translation by Jean-Michel Desprats, a Nanterre University professor who has translated 24 Shakespeare plays for the stage, performed by an enthusiastic young cast that believed in Shakespeare's text and trusted their director Frédéric Polier to guide them through it.
Which just goes to show that Shakespeare really is the greatest, and if you just perform it the way he wrote it you'll be fine.
One of Shakespeare's biggest fans in the 19th century was the great Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), who based three of his operas on Shakespeare plays, namely Macbeth, Otello and Falstaff.
Verdi's second favorite author was the 18th century German playwright Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805), whom Verdi admired not only for his dramatic skills but also for his progressive and freedom-loving convictions.
Over the years Verdi made operas out of four of Schiller's plays, an early Joan of Arc, a gruff I masnadieri (The Robbers), which was recently staged in Frankfurt am Main for the first time ever in that city, a more mature Louisa Miller, based on Schiller's Kabale und Liebe, and finally one of Verdi's masterpieces Don Carlos (in French) or Don Carlo (in Italian), which I've been seeing all over Europe lately, including in Geneva.
Since Geneva is in the Suisse Romande, the French-speaking part of Switzerland, I was secretly hoping they would put on the five-act French version of Don Carlos, as they have sometimes done in the past, but this time they opted for the four-act Italian Don Carlo instead.
Most of the characters in Don Carlo are based (some more faithfully than others) on historical figures who really lived in 16th century Spain. The big exception to this is the Marquis of Posa, who was entirely a product of Friedrich Schiller's imagination. I like to think of Posa as a kind of time traveler, an idealistic 18th century intellectual who was somehow catapulted two hundred years backwards in time and landed on his feet in 16th century Spain, where he became a decorated war hero, a respected diplomat, the confidant of King Phillip II of Spain -- and inevitably a victim of the Spanish Inquisition.
All six major characters of Don Carlo took a profound hold on Verdi's imagination, and he wrote great music for all of them to sing, but perhaps most especially for Posa as he lies dying on a stone prison floor in a futile attempt to save his friend Don Carlo.
(I'm listening to the American baritone Thomas Hampson sing the role of Posa in French as I write this.)
Photos: 1. Signpost for the 9:14 ICN train to Basel on track 6 2. ICN train entering Cornavin station in Geneva 3.... more travel advice
Photos: 1. Safe guarded bicycle parking in the main train station Cornevin in Geneva 2. Entrance to the bicycle... more travel advice
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