Monday, January 29, 2018

What is Beatrice and Benedict?

Philip Newton Photo
Dozens of opera composers have drawn inspiration from Shakespeare over the years. Here at Seattle Opera we’ve often presented Verdi’s great operas based on Shakespeare, but never before have our audiences heard Beatrice and Benedict, French composer Hector Berlioz’s ravishingly beautiful operatic riff on Much Ado About Nothing. This production marks the first time Berlioz will be performed at Seattle Opera. His most stageworthy opera, Beatrice and Benedict builds upon the solid dramatic foundation laid by England’s greatest playwright. Berlioz’s music adds fascinating new emotional and lyrical dimensions to Shakespeare’s brilliant play of wit and intrigue.

For this unique production, ACT Theatre’s Artistic Director, John Langs, will make his Seattle Opera debut directing Beatrice and Benedict, while Ludovic Morlot, Music Director of the Seattle Symphony, conducts for his first time at Seattle Opera. The ensemble includes singers beloved by Seattle Opera audiences as well as non-singing actors cast by John Langs, including several actors from ACT Theatre’s 2018 Core Company. Returning singers from our just closed Cosi fan tutte include Hanna Hipp, Craig Verm, Laura Tatulescu and Kevin Burdette. The Seattle-based design team– including Robert Dahlstrom, Deborah Trout, Matthew Smucker, and Connie Yun–conjures a sunny Sicilian setting sure to brighten up your winter.

Philip Newton Photo
Berlioz translated the original Shakespeare text into French when he made Much Ado About Nothing into an opéra comique, a popular French form of light opera with lots of dialogue. Berlioz included much of the original play text in the spoken dialogue, translating it into the language of his audience (originally, French, but later German as well). Seattle Opera is presenting Beatrice and Benedict in English, so our audiences can enjoy the genius of one of our own language’s greatest writers directly, from lips to ear. We figured you’d prefer this approach to reading a Shakespeare play on the supertitle screen while it’s being spoken in French! We’re using the English singing translation developed by the opera librettist Amanda Holden for English National Opera. Amplified dialogue plus supertitles for the sung text will guarantee you don’t miss a word.

Berlioz’s fantastic love music in Beatrice and Benedict focuses on the playful bickering and irresistible attraction of the title characters. But Seattle Opera is also restoring the intense drama of Shakespeare’s dark subplot, in which Don John tries to ruin Claudio’s faith in the innocent Hero (greatly abridged in Berlioz’s opera). In Seattle Opera’s Beatrice and Benedict, music taken from other Berlioz works will contribute beauty, passion, and color to the villainy of Don John and the jealousy and remorse of Claudio. Turns out, Shakespeare knew what he was doing! The subplot not only adds depth and contrast; it forces Beatrice and Benedict to grow up and embrace their full humanity.

Given Maestro Morlot’s expertise with Berlioz, and director Langs’ rich experience with Shakespeare and Much Ado About Nothing, all the pieces are in place and the stage is set for a once-in-a-lifetime game of words vs. music, women vs. men, and love vs. hate. Light as a soufflé yet rich and deep as a fine wine, Beatrice and Benedict is sure to charm your ears and enchant your heart.

Beatrice and Benedict plays February 24-March 10 at McCaw Hall, and is part of the Seattle Shakespeare Festival. Tickets and more information at