ABERGavenny audiences will be treated to a heady mix of opera and Shakespeare next month as Mid Wales Opera takes centre stage at the Borough Theatre.
Berlioz’s Beatrice & Benedict is a tale of wit, romance and the complexities of love, performed in English over two acts.
Beatrice and Benedict were created by William Shakespeare for his comedy play “Much Ado About Nothing,” and are known for their witty and sharp-tongued exchanges, which form one of the central themes of the play.
Beatrice is a quick-witted and independent woman, known for her intelligence and sharp sense of humour. Beatrice has a strong personality and is often critical of the idea of love and marriage.
Benedict is a soldier in the service of Don Pedro, the Prince of Aragon, and like Beatrice, Benedict is known for his acuity and intelligence. He is initially a confirmed bachelor who mocks the idea of marriage and is engaged in a “merry war” of words with Beatrice.
Despite their initial resistance to the idea of love and marriage, they are tricked by their friends into believing that each is secretly in love with the other. This deception leads them to reconsider their feelings and eventually fall in love.
The tour has been created as part of Folio400, which aims to arrange, encourage and promote the 400th Birthday of The First Folio, the first printed edition of Shakespeare’s collected plays, in 2023.
The night promises to be a perfect blend of live performance and music for those who love Shakespeare, as well as for those who love opera.
Berlioz’s final opera sets to music the wild and illogical whirlwind of falling in love, bringing a rich warmth of invention to Shakespeare that virtually no other composer has achieved. Berlioz’s life-long passion for Shakespeare is evident throughout his miraculous score, radiant with love and sparkling with energy, and including the famous central nocturne duet, perhaps the most beautiful thing Berlioz ever wrote.
This is a great opportunity to enjoy MWO’s production which features six singers and four musicians, with an English singing translation by Amanda Holden, together with Shakespeare’s original texts adapted by Richard Studer and a new chamber arrangement by Jonathan Lyness.
Music Director Jonathan Lyness says about creating a new score for Berlioz’s Beatrice & Benedict: “MWO started thinking about a Shakespeare season a few years ago. We wanted to stage one of the great Verdi/Shakespeare operas as MWO’s Main Stages spring production. This left us with a quandary as to what to do for our Small Stages tour. Thinking about Verdi and his passion for Shakespeare led me to think about Berlioz and his similar passion for Shakespeare. They are the two great Shakespearean composers of the c19th, arguably of all time.
“Remarkably, just as Verdi turned to writing a Shakespearean comedy at the end of his life, so too had Berlioz. And just as Falstaff confirmed Verdi to be at the height of his powers, so Beatrice and Benedict had confirmed Berlioz’s inspiration to be in full flight.”
The original composition featured two harps for a single music segment as well as the creative orchestral inclusion “verres frappés sur la table” informally speaking, what can be described as “shot glasses”. While MWO can’t promise an abundance of harpists they haven’t ruled out using shot glasses.
Artistic Director Richard Studer reflects on the production’s development as they bring Mid Wales Opera’s latest SmallStages tour to audiences: “Working on the SmallStages tour is always fun, from sitting in my studio creating an adaptive set that will work in the wide variety of community venues that we perform in, rehearsing the singers through these hilarious comedies to finally loading up the van and setting off on tour. There is something magical about performing to an audience in their local venue where they sit amidst friends with a pint and the occasional dog in tow to enjoy an evening of live music and comedy performed to the highest professional standards.”
So, prepare to be transported to a world of comedic romance as Beatrice and Benedict take centre stage; testament to Berlioz’s enduring genius and his ability to breathe new life into Shakespeare’s timeless tale as MWO take their SmallStages tour across Wales and the Borders throughout October and November this year.
This tour is made possible with support from Arts Council of Wales, The National Lottery, and Colwinston Charitable Trust and The Gwendoline and Margaret Davies Charity.