Murder, madness and stirring melodies

Delusions. © Charles Thibo

“Du blanc, rien que du blanc! Je suis la mariée!”1 Ophelia has lost herself once more in her delusions. The grief over the death of her father Polonius, killed inadvertently by Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, has driven her crazy. What a tragedy! While Hamlet feigns to be mad to plan in secrecy the death of King Claudius, brother and murderer of Hamlet’s father, Ophelia, the woman he loves, has succumbed to true madness because her father Polonius’s death through Hamlet’s hand. William Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet” is one of my favourites, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky has composed in January 1891 a wonderful incidental music inspired by the play.

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Lear – You are men of stone

Lear - solitude, madness. © Elisa Haberer/Opéra National de Paris
Lear – solitude, madness. © Elisa Haberer/Opéra National de Paris

The partition of a kingdom, jealousy leading two sisters to orchestrate the death of a third, a cold-hearted father, a conspiration of an illegitimate son against his brother, another father losing his eyesight, blinded by his foes – those are the ingredients of William Shakespeare’s play “King Lear”. Those are the building blocks of Aribert Reimann’s opera “Lear”, that I saw two days ago in Paris at the Opéra Garnier. I finally made it into that prestigious opera house and I saw and heard an utterly stunning performance.

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Storms and tempests made in Russia

Thunderstorms fascinated me since my childhood. © Charles Thibo
Thunderstorms fascinated me since my childhood. © Charles Thibo

Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, it says in the Psalms, but Tchaikovsky can teach you fear! One of the pieces that have been published only after his tragic death is called “The Storm” (Op. posth. 76). The opening is dark and violent – it could well feature in a horror movie. It is being balanced soon by a reassuring tune, but the darkness doesn’t go away. Then the reassuring melody, played by the strings and the flutes, takes over again, but not for long, the darkness comes back, like waves rolling over the countryside with violent showers and short breaks between them. You can almost hear the rain splash against the window panes. Very, very dramatic! Tchaikovsky wrote here a lovely symphonic poem, but wait, actually he wrote two! Continue reading!

Midsummer – a dream dreamt by William and Felix

Into the enchanted forest, kingdom of the fairies. © Charles Thibo
Into the enchanted forest, kingdom of the fairies. © Charles Thibo

Midsummer – time to dream… Let’s embark on a journey through the world of fairies with the brilliant composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, whose sister Fanny we have already met, and the 16th century writer William Shakespeare. Don’t worry, you may, but will not have to have read Shakespeare’s piece “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, even though it is a witty and funny one and certainly worth reading. Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy has composed an overture (Op. 21) and a larger piece of 11 movements (Op. 61), both inspired by Shakespeare’s theater piece, that hopefully will enchant you. The British actress Judi Dench, our guest star today, will act as our guide through Shakespeare’s lovely verses to keep you on track.

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