Imagine a tale which is a cross between Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and a medieval legend, complete with damsels in distress, knights in shining armour and a band of marauding pirates and there you have the essence of the plot of Weber's last opera, "Oberon". Commissioned by Covent Garden, the work received its first performance there in 1826, to great acclaim. Weber himself wasn't particularly happy with it, however. He wasn't at ease with the libretto, which contained spoken dialogue rather than recitative, but had to bow to the whims of the English paying public. Weber was no stranger to the theatre, having grown up in a theatrical family and held posts in theatres in Germany and Prague. He was a great champion of German opera and intended to rework Oberon in the German style, but sadly he died just two months after the first performance.
The complete opera is not often performed, but the overture is a popular concert piece, taking its melodies from the main body of the opera. The slow introduction has its roots in fairyland, with its horn call, atmospheric strings and scurrying woodwind, but when we reach the energetic opening theme of the allegro, we are transported into the world of adventurous knights. The lyrical second theme, played by the clarinet and echoed by the strings, is followed by another lilting theme, which will return in exuberant style towards the end of the piece, when Oberon and Puck have worked their magic, perils and dangers have been overcome and everyone lives happily ever after.
I hope that you will enjoy this "curtain raiser" to tonight's concert.
Programme notes for BHSO performance, Nov 2003
Written by Helen Lear
Helen is the Orchestra's Principal Cellist.
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