Carl Maria von Weber (born Eutin, 18 November 1786; died London, 5 June 1826)
James Robinson Planché.
Poem Oberon (1780) by Christoph Martin Wieland, and French romance Huon de Bordeaux (13th century).
First performance: London (Covent Garden), 12 April 1826.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 23 October 1985.
Scottish Opera premiere: As above.
Oberon must be the prime example in opera where the music is generally admitted to be a work of genius destroyed by an incompetent storyline and text. Planché was a very successful writer in London, and he wrote the kind of exotic and visually spectacular pantomime that was fashionable in the metropolis. Weber soon realised that this entertainment involving a fusion of spoken and sung roles was very different from anything that would work in Germany. However the London staging was a great success, though Weber was in very poor health and died soon afterwards. Since his death, many attempts have been made to provide a new word setting, and in 1985 Scottish Opera staged a version written by Anthony Burgess. Suffice it to say that Frank Dunlop, director of the Edinburgh Festival, presumably believing the original could not possibly be any worse, staged Planché’s own revised version of 1836 at the following Festival, with widely acknowledged success. It has serious faults, but taken on its own terms it works, and there seems little point in tinkering with it.
Oberon, King of the Fairies (tenor)
Titania, Queen of the Fairies (spoken)
Puck, Oberon’s servant (mezzo-soprano)
Charlemagne, King of the Franks (spoken)
Sir Huon of Bordeaux, a Frankish knight (tenor)
Sherasmin, Huon’s squire (baritone)
Reiza, daughter of Haroun-al-Rachid (soprano)
Fatima, Reiza’s attendant (mezzo-soprano)
Haroun-al-Rachid, Caliph of Baghdad (spoken)
Oberon, having quarrelled with Titania over whether men or women are more constant, chooses to use Huon as an example. The knight has been challenged to go to Baghdad, kill the Caliph’s guard and marry his daughter. Oberon helps him on his way, armed with a magic horn and goblet. Huon takes his squire with him. After their escape from Baghdad with Reiza and her maid (now loved by Sherasmin), they sail the Mediterranean enjoying more adventures, including capture by pirates. Huon is able to use his horn to effect a rescue, and they eventually return to Charlemagne’s court. Oberon and Titania are reconciled.
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