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A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Simone Young

  • Music, Classical and opera
  1. Five actors rehearsing
    Photograph: Supplied/Belvoir St Theatre
  2. Five actors rehearsing
    Photograph: Supplied/Belvoir St Theatre

Time Out says

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra joins forces with Belvoir Street Theatre to perform Mendelssohn’s music and scenes from the Shakespeare play that inspired it

In 1842, the composer Felix Mendelssohn was commissioned by the King of Prussia to write music for William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The king liked music to be written for his favourite plays, and Mendelssohn already had a 13-minute overture for the play that he had written as a teenager, and which had received great acclaim, so he was the perfect man for the job. Since then, Mendelssohn’s music for Midsummer has become a treasured part of the classical catalogue, including one of the most iconic pieces of classical music, the Wedding March (“Here comes the bride…”), arguably better known than the opening chords of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

As part of Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s celebrations marking its return to the Sydney Opera House, they will unite with Belvoir Street Theatre to perform Mendelssohn’s music along with selected scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Chief Conductor Simone Young is wielding the baton for a 55-strong orchestra and a full choir, and Belvoir artistic director Eamon Flack has adapted the play and is directing a cast of seven actors. With Sydney Symphony, Belvoir and the Opera House joining forces in the stunning new Concert Hall, it’s just about the ultimate Sydney arts event. 

“Shakespeare’s play tells the story of a group of young lovers who flee the city of Athens in order to try and be free to love each other, and end up in the woods on a Midsummer’s night, where their pursuit tangles with conflict between the king and queen of the fairies,” explains Flack. 

“There’s something about the way that the play summons up a sense of restitution and restoration, arriving at how things should be again, that kind of feels beautifully right for the Sydney Symphony’s return season to the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall.”

The staging has been designed to enhance the music, rather than vice versa. Neither a straight production of the play, nor a straight performance of Mendelssohn’s music, it’s rather a reimagining and a combination of the two, with more than a few surprises. “I will be playing Puck,” says actor Virginia Gay, “which is a complete delight to me, because I’m nearly six foot tall!” The fairy also known as Robin Goodfellow has traditionally been portrayed by slight male actors, and is the character who pushes the plot along with his magical mischief.

For Gay, the rehearsal process has revealed how effectively Mendelssohn has captured the influence of the source material. “There are such beautiful musical themes, motifs that we hear again and again. There’s such clear drama in the piece. Often we have found as we get to a piece of text, we go ‘oh, there’s something in the music there.’” 

Flack agrees: “The music itself, that Mendelsohn score, it goes right into a part of your brain where you kind of dream, actually, and so there’s something very beautiful and joyful about it.”  

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