Opera Scotland

Pyramus and Thisbe

Music
John Frederick Lampe (born Saxony, 1703; died Edinburgh, 25 July 1751)

Text
Anon, perhaps the composer.

Source
Act 5 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1596), by William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

Premieres
First performance: London (Covent Garden), 25 January 1745.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (St Andrew’s & St George’s), 15 August 1988 (and probably earlier).
Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

Background
Lampe was one of a number of musicians who followed Handel’s example by moving to Britain from the continent. He played the bassoon in Handel’s operas, which gave him the opportunity to study Handel’s methods at close quarters. He composed operas in the Italian style himself, but found that his talents were better suited to the art of parody. His greatest success was The Dragon of Wantley (1737), and after Pyramus and Thisbe, described as a 'Mock Opera', his London career ended. In 1748 he tried Dublin and two years later he moved on to Edinburgh, where he soon died of fever. He was buried in Canongate churchyard.

Main Characters
Prologue (bass)
Pyramus (tenor)
Thisbe (soprano)
Wall (tenor)
Moonshine (tenor)
Lion (bass)
Mr Semibrief, a composer (actor)
Gentleman (actor)
Master (actor)

Plot Summary
This short “mock opera” takes the Rude Mechanicals’ play performance from the last act of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, itself adapted from Ovid, and adapts the parody of a play so that it becomes a parody of operatic style. Theseus and the serious characters in the play are replaced by Mr Semibrief and his friends who introduce the action and continue to comment on it at regular intervals.

Wall enters and forms the barrier between the lovers. Pyramus and Thisbe communicate through a chink in the wall, and agree to meet at a tomb in the woods nearby. In this new location a lion enters and sings a roaring song to reveal his determination not to frighten the ladies in the audience. After the Moon’s entrance Thisbe comes on, but is frightened by the Lion and runs off, dropping her veil. When Pyramus arrives he finds the veil, and believing Thisbe dead, kills himself. Thisbe returns, and finding Pyramus dead, kills herself in turn.

RECORDINGS

HYPERION (1 CD) Sung in English Recorded 1994

Conductor: Peter Holman
Band of Opera Restor’d
Mark Padmore (Pyramus), Susan Bisatt (Thisbe), Andrew Knight (Lion).

This recording is a delightful example of a popular entertainment from the mid-18th century. The musical director, Peter Holman, has specialised in resurrecting such works and preparing them for modern performance, in this case by composing new recitatives to replace the lost originals. As with the performances at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1988 (and possibly earlier), the comedy is held in check so that the wit of the musical parody is clearly projected. Mark Padmore and Susan Bisatt have great fun in the title roles. Michael Sanderson is a sweetly lyrical Wall, and Andrew Knight is wonderfully colourful in his roaring song.

The Cast

Gentleman
 
Lion
 
Master
 
Moonshine
 
Mr Semibrief
 a composer
Prologue
 
Prompter
 
Pyramus
 
Thisbe
 
Wall
 

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