Mozart and Shakespeare (“The Two Great Dramatists” – Peter Hall)

To have Shakespeare and Mozart live within twenty-four hours is something to joy in – and when these two monumental works are being shown, surely the joy is unconfined. It’s all the more to be treasured when they come from Covent Garden and London’s Globe Theatre ,respectively – readers of these pieces will know how highly I rate Covent Garden while I believe The Globe is the theatre which gives us the most consistently brilliant and authentic productions of Shakespeare’s plays. ”King Lear” is the first Live screening from there but we’ve been fortunate in recent years to have many recordings of superb Globe productions at SGC.

The legendary pianist, Arthur Schnabel (his recording of the Beethoven Sonatas is one of the towering peaks of recorded music), once wrote that “some music is better than it can be played” – these two works, each among the great creations of the human mind and spirit, are probably in that category; being of inexhaustible and unfathomable richness. “King Lear”, that bleak, terrifying and wonderful play, has some of the most sublime poetry that Shakespeare “(or anybody) ever wrote, while “The Magic Flute”, despite some of the complexities of its plot/libretto (where were you Lorenzo da Ponte when you were needed), has some of the most heavenly music that the “God of music” from Salzburgh ever set down. Of him the music critic, Colin Wilson, wrote:- “Mozart was the greatest of all opera composers, and his four mature masterpieces (of which “The Magic Flute” is one) are surely not only the greatest of all operas but also the greatest works in musical history”

Why are Shakespeare and Mozart so closely linked in my mind? Well, some years ago, at The Galway Arts Festival, I heard the great theatre and opera director, Sir Peter Hall, tell his audience: “Of course, there are two great dramatists in our western theatre – Shakespeare (no surprise there!) and” … as we waited expectantly, he followed up with the composer that millions of us revere above all others, “Mozart.” And he went on to explain how it is that Mozart, with his sense of drama, his musical giftedness and his sublime understanding of human nature, was able in his operas to reach Shakespearean heights (or depths) in his delineation of our species.

In a similar vein, Lang Lang, one of our century’s pianistic greats, has written re his first encounter with Shakespeare: – “I loved the complexity of ‘Hamlet’, the way its themes overlap and subtexts emerge like different melodies … Shakespeare’s dialogue made me think of Mozart’s phrasings, the way his music would change from character to character; through Shakespeare’s characters and the way they interact with each other, I finally began to understand Mozart”. Again, Shakespeare and Mozart sit happily together.

Mozart’s opera will delight children of all ages – its fairytale, pantomimic and comic elements are a delight while it’s a beautiful exemplary story of love overcoming even the most treacherous ordeals; “King Lear” is for a slightly more mature audience, although I must say I always thought a great privilege to explore it with my Leaving Cert students. (I always have a word of advice for newcomers to Mozart – regardless of what’s happening on stage, always listen to the music.)

In Prague, in January 2017, I saw a great performance of the “Flute”, with lovely singing and some of the most marvellous Mozart playing I’ve ever heard but the latest “Lear” I saw, a few years ago in London, wasn’t inspiring with Sir Ian McKellan (for me, one of the greats) not at his best on the night. However, theatre lovers will on no account miss these screenings. “King Lear” isn’t easy to stage: Charles Lamb (wrongly) thought it unactable while “The Magic Flute” presents its own staging dilemmas. But given Directors and performers who approach these works with the humility appropriate to such wondrous masterpieces, we should have two memorable nights at SGC, Dungarvan.

“The Magic Flute” is on Wed, Sept 20th at 7.15; “King Lear” is on Thurs, Sept 21st at 7.30. As the great Con Houlihan might say: – “Not to be missed atall, atall!  (From Jim Ryan).

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