Pyramus and Thisbe, or Fatal Love

Sardonical opera with an epilogue, English tea and the English humor

The opera is based on the text of interlude “Pyramus and Thisbe”
from the comedy by William Shakespeare “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

 

Stage  Director – Alexander Borodovsky
Music Directors – Ekaterina Vasheruk, Julian Gallant (Great Britain)
Set and Costume Designers – Igor Nezhny and Tatiana Tulubieva
Plastique Director –​ Yuri Ustyugov

Playing time – 1 hour (no intermission)
Premiere: May 13, 2003
Language of performance: Russian, English

Sardonic opera with an epilogue, English tea and the English humor… Sounds tempting! And it immediately makes you want to attend, participate, see, hear and try everything... This is possible only in "Helikon-Opera"!

Comic opera "Pyramus and Thisbe" by Englishman John Frederick Lampe will not disappoint the audience. No cheating! There will be English tea in English porcelain cups, and English croquet on English grass. And, of course, English humour which for some reason makes the Russian audience laugh hard... It is nice that all the opera characters are self-ironic, while inhabitants of Albion themselves are not. Lampe’s music is charming even after two hundred and fifty years... It is worth finding the time to rest unhurriedly in company of real ladies and true gentlemen.

HISTORY

Born in a Saxon town Braunschweig John Frederick Lampe (1702/1703–1751) at the age of 18 graduated from the University of Helmstidde having received legal education. Then he went to Hamburg, afterwards — to London, where he understood that in the country of bourgeoisie and democracy people appreciated the music which is shorter, simpler and more interesting. Lampe began to create small mockery operas for the entertainment of the audience of the Covent Garden theatre.

He was persistent as a German and his thirteenth composition in this genre “The Dragon of Wantley” (1737) became successful. In a year it was continued with “Margery, or A Worse Plague than the Dragon”. Step by step John Frederick moved to the Shakespeare’s achievements — to the composition of a “sardonical opera “Pyramus and Thisbe” (1745), the text of which had been extracted from the comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. It was extracted not by Lampe himself. In his days original Shakespeare was not popular, unlike the adaptations of John Dryden, Thomas Betterton and Colley Gibber (“crucified Molière, hapless Shakespeare” — as the latter’s art works were criticized). So, Lampe could have never read the plays by Shakespeare. He was required just to compose a new music to “The Comick Masque of Pyramus and Thisbe” by Richard Leveridge (1716). And it was exactly what he did. The first performance of the opera took place on 25 January 1745 in the Royal Covent Garden Theatre. But let’s look into the Shakespeare’s play. In the fifth act of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” there is a performance for Theseus, Duke of Athens held by simple people: Hard-handed men that work in Athens here, Which never labour’d in their minds till now, And now have toil’d their unbreathed memories With this same play, against your nuptial.

This is not an extra scene; Shakespeare throughout all the comedy nourishes and cherishes the creeping play. Here is the roles distribution and here is the discussion how to interpret the image of Lion:

— I will roar, that I will do any man’s heart good to hear me; I will roar, that I will make the duke say ‘Let him roar again, let him roar again’.

 — An you should do it too terribly, you would fright the duchess and the ladies, that they would shriek; and that were enough to hang us all. There are no guarantees that the play will be performed after all the twist and turns, because the rivalry is strong. Theseus is offered to choose among the plays “The battle with the Centaurs, to be sung by an Athenian eunuch to the harp”, “The riot of the tipsy Bacchanals, Tearing the Thracian singer in their rage”, “The thrice three Muses mourning for the death of Learning, late deceased in beggary” and finally “A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus and his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth”. The duke chooses the Athenian amateur play.  

The major part of the Lampe’s compositions was lost or preserved partially. We may characterize the extant operas with the words of Shakespeare’s Theseus: “if he that writ it had played Pyramus and hanged himself in Thisbe’s garter, it would have been a fine tragedy: and so it is”. There is nothing to add. The plot, borrowed from the great play writer guarantees “Pyramus and Thisbe” a long life.

SUMMARY
There is a wall near the ancient Babylon, separating the estates of the families of two miserable lovers — Pyramus and Thisbe. Among the stones and loam there is a crack in one of the walls, through which they whisper their love for each other. And the wall always sympathizes them.

Pyramus appears and looks into the crack. He doesn’t see Thisbe there. Then he leaves in despair. Thisbe comes, repining for her lover. Hearing her voice Pyramus returns. At last the lovers may talk to each other. They arrange to meet near the legendary king Ninus’ tomb. 

The lion introduces itself to the audience and asks not to doubt in its good manners and kind intentions. The moon appears and also tells its story a little bit.

Thisbe is waiting for Pyramus near the tomb. The lion appears. Thisbe runs away leaving behind her veil, which the Lion is tearing by his bloody chaps. Pyramus appears. Having seen the bloody veil of his beloved, he stabs himself and sings his last aria. Thisbe returns to find the dying Pyramus. She performs her premortem aria and also kills herself by the same sword. In the epilogue and closing ceremony  the main characters call the audience for clemency toward the play and sing about their love.

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