Opera Scotland

Oberon or, The Elf King's Oath

Music
Carl Maria von Weber (born Eutin, 18 November 1786; died London, 5 June 1826)

Text
James Robinson Planché.

Source
Poem Oberon (1780) by Christoph Martin Wieland (in English translation by W Sotheby), and French romance Huon de Bordeaux (13th century).

Premieres
First performance: London (Covent Garden), 12 April 1826.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Theatre Royal), 26 August 1827.
Scottish Opera premiere: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 23 October 1985.

Background
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.

Main Characters
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)

Plot Summary
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.

The Cast

Abdallah
 a Corsair
Almanzor
 Emir of Tunis
Babekan
 a Saracen prince
Charlemagne
 King of the Franks
Charlemagne's son
 
Fatima
 Reiza's attendant
Haroun el Raschid
 Caliph of Baghdad
Mermaid
 
Oberon
 King of the Fairies
Puck
 Oberon's servant
Reiza
 daughter of Haroun el Raschid
Sherasmin
 Sir Huon's squire
Sir Huon of Bordeaux
 Duke of Guienne
Solo voice
 
The Horn
 
Titania
 Queen of the Fairies

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