Magdalena Švecová

    William Shakespeare wrote his Midsummer Night’s Dream over four hundred years ago. Since then, this wedding comedy has undergone numerous adaptations and is still in itself a constant challenge for the directors of various stages worldwide. Indeed, as most texts of this brilliant poet are.

    The work earned its informal subtitle “wedding comedy”, besides the final wedding scene and alleged premiere run of the piece on a certain Elizabethan’s wedding reception, especially because in terms of its structure, atmosphere and imagery is closely related to the May ceremonies and the celebration of summer solstice. The ceremonies followed the ancient fertility rites that were connected, in the subconscience of Elizabethans, with mysterious power of herbs, supernatural phenomena, changing of seasons, with the celebration of the god of sun. Festive and revelry atmosphere of these days allowed to turn the world upside down, the young and the old ran into the woods for love, which was later sharply criticized by the Puritans. Marriage, however, as the blessed state sanctified the union of man and woman – hence at the end of the play as many as three marital beds are consecrated. Midsummer Night’s Dream is primarily a play about love and its various forms.

    Purcell’s semi-opera is about a hundred years younger. The transformation of the taste of the viewer of that time and the theater in general was very significant. Already in the very title of The Fairy Queen, there is an apparent emphasis on the world of supernatural beings. It is therefore no surprise that the probable librettist Thomas Betterton, while maintaining the original storyline, omitted some characters and situations and added others (Corydon, Mopsa, Nymph, allegorical figures of Night, Sleep, Mystery etc.). None of the sung roles had a direct link to Shakespeare’s plot. Formally, therefore, The Fairy Queen appeared so that the plot was conducted by sixteen actors, while the music, that relates to the text only metaphorically, was inserted according to contemporary practice in encounters with supernatural characters, as well as in romantic, pastoral and comic scenes. It thus encompasses single solo, choral and instrumental numbers, dances and also the so-called “masques”.

    May ceremonies are reflected even more sharply in the individual “masques” than in the dramatic version (four seasons, welcoming of the god of sun, etc.). The symbology, quite readable at that time, may now seem completely illogical. Moreover, it was essential that in this form The Fairy Queen was first produced in 1692 in honor of the birthday of William III and the fifteenth anniversary of his marriage with Queen Mary. This is done by attaching direct references in the text: Oberon was a kind of personification of King William – hence the celebration of Oberon’s birthday, the Chinese “masque” with exotic characters had to pay homage to the queen’s rare collection of Chinese porcelain; in the end of the semi-opera, the royal couple is blessed by Hymen, the god of marriage.
    How to find then a universal staging key that fits into all the above-mentioned “doors”? Shakespeare’s text is multi-layered and utterly timeless. Purcell music gives wings to these roots; it is original, fresh and inspiring. Both works also leave plenty of room for creative imagination.

    For creating any shape of production, space is a very important factor. A stage looked otherwise at the time of the Dream, when the main focus was on the actor – or a word; differently it looked in the Baroque period, in which the discovery of perspective and stage miracles allowed for illusive stage magic. Another way we would approach the production in an authentic Baroque theater, another way we would look for on the alternative stage. For our performance, a crucial factor is the space of a chateau garden theatre. We do not try to transform it theatrically, but rather we use it as a reference point instead. The chateau garden is not an “Athenian forest”, but a garden; the colors of the chateau are reflected in the colors of the costumes, the shapes of chateau ornaments are reflected in the details of stage design and costumes.

    With regard to form, there are two options tested by large opera houses: to stage the Purcell’s semi-opera in the original form with drama, as it was done, for example, in the Glyndebourne festival performance (2009), or omit the spoken text and use only the musical material. The Fairy Queen was directed that way e.g. by David Pountney in Covent Garden (1995).

    We created a sort of a chamber version, due to the space of the garden amphitheater and the whole concept of the Baroque Evening at the Chateau of Nové Hrady, in which we eliminated the spoken text and reduced sung roles from twenty to five. The actual line of the music part is discontinuous; hence, we assigned the originally spoken roles, carrying the main plot, to singers (Titania, Oberon, and Nick Bottom). Instead of “masques” with allegorical figures’ scenes, we use stage situations and images.

    The main compositional principle is a play. A play with themes of the Night’s Dream, a play with the principles of Baroque theater, a play with space, sound, image and movement. Just as in the text a lot of reflection is used, and unreal world (Titania, Oberon, Puck, fairies, elves) is reflected from the real world (Theseus, Hippolyta, lovers); we use the contrast of Baroque-stylized fantasy figures with figures that are almost civil. Paradoxically, it is the breach of the hierarchy of characters, the mad union of the highest with the lowest (Queen and drunken Nick Bottom) that leads to reconciliation of Titania with Oberon.

    In my literary adaptation, I respect Shakespeare’s layout of the play – the movement from chaos to order, from fantasies and mysteries of the night to reality of the day. Reality is modified darkness and magic in the night, while the truth is veiled by a mask and socially acceptable form. Sometimes, however, a mask is taken aside and reveals a flash of real emotions and eternal human weaknesses.
    In this work, Ancient, Classical, Renaissance and Baroque meet the contemporary human. If the imagery of partner conflict, jealousy, desire, foolish love, social “dances” and desire for harmony we find ourselves albeit partly, it will be just one more proof that the essence of us humans has changed very little over the centuries.

    Magdalena Švecová

    Čeština (Česká republika)English (United Kingdom)