"Le songe d'une nuit d'été" Top 5 Page for this destination Geneva by Nemorino

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A Midsummer Night's Dream in Geneva

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.)

  • Last visit to Geneva: Jun 2008
  • Intro Updated Jul 21, 2013
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Reviews (35)

Comments (55)

  • IreneMcKay's Profile Photo
    Jan 16, 2016 at 5:16 AM

    Happy New Year to you. We are considering a visit to Geneva in the summer. Very helpful page. All the best, Irene

  • Andraf's Profile Photo
    Sep 25, 2015 at 3:48 AM

    Great page Don. Fingers crossed I'll be in Geneva next week - just for a day but still I'll get to see a bit of the city.

  • jojes's Profile Photo
    Jul 25, 2015 at 2:44 PM

    This is absolutely one of the cities still on our list ...

  • Oleg_D.'s Profile Photo
    Jun 27, 2014 at 11:56 AM

    Thank you for excellent virtual tour to Geneva!

  • german_eagle's Profile Photo
    Mar 15, 2014 at 5:48 AM

    Great page! I was in Geneva on a quiet Sunday, no traffic at all in the old town, enjoyed strolling and watching the locals very much. I liked the Maison Tavel better than any Rousseau/Voltaire museums ... depends on one's interest, I guess. :-) Btw, as far as I know the ramp in the Hotel de Ville was for the councilmen to ride up to the halls on their horses, not for cannons.

  • Jim_Eliason's Profile Photo
    Sep 15, 2013 at 8:09 PM

    Great tips

  • mindcrime's Profile Photo
    Jul 21, 2013 at 1:07 PM

    I'm a bit jealous, it seems you had lovely sunny days plus lots of outdoor concerts in many parks, in early march I was just happy when the rain stopped for an hour or two :)

    • Nemorino's Profile Photo
      Jul 21, 2013 at 1:22 PM

      Yes, I was really lucky with the weather that year. --Thanks for finding and rating my Geneva tips.

    • mindcrime's Profile Photo
      Jul 21, 2013 at 1:38 PM

      actually I just completed my page, now that I see what I did there I spent a lot of time outside but I'm dissapointed with my photos

  • picek's Profile Photo
    May 11, 2013 at 6:16 AM

    It must have been already 20 years ago that we briefly stopped in Geneva! Blueness of its lake still dwelve in my memory as I occasionally wander around Swiss landscape I remember. And like with your other sites, I always enjoy the uniqueness of them... well, actually I could play that all monumental music in my inner ear right now :)

  • kris-t's Profile Photo
    Sep 9, 2012 at 6:14 AM

    Hi Don, great Geneva tips. Shame on me, I did not know Rousseau was born and Borges used to live there.

  • lmkluque's Profile Photo
    Sep 2, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    "...medieval architect had built a bicycle ramp ....turns out that the original purpose of the ramp was to roll cannons up and down."
    Thanks Don for the first laugh of my day!

    • Nemorino's Profile Photo
      Sep 3, 2012 at 4:05 AM

      Hi Linda, thanks for your visit to my Geneva page. I’m glad you liked the bit about the far-sighted medieval architect and his bicycle ramp at the City Hall.


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