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On the Use of the Harp in Shakespeare's “Fantastic Scene”: Britten's Musical “Dream”

Alessandra Robles    



This work aims at delineating the musical and dramaturgical concepts of «fantastic scene» both in Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream and in the homonymous opera with music by the English composer Britten, thanks to a particular instrument, that is the harp. Through the dramaturgical analysis of the work and the anthropological meaning that Shakespeare gives to the symbols featuring in his comedy, the concept of «fantastic scene» is carried on consisting of the introduction in the plot of a supernatural or of a highly symbolic element that inexorably influences both the events and the character’s destinies. The similarities and the differences between the two works are worth an analysis. In Shakespeare the dream is combined with an excellent plot characterized by a magic atmosphere. Likewise, with a subtle but deep difference, in Britten’s work everything can happen in the midsummer night. In this case the night-time is the moment when the truth comes out in a state of total unconsciousness. This is the deepest and most hidden kind of truth and everything can magically happen so that the fantastic scene is carried out in the opera. In addition, an important theatrical and popular aspect can be found in both the works: the theatre, be it prose or musical theatre, is a visual art representing situations, feelings and everyday life conditions. Although in Shakespeare and Britten’s works we can’t talk about social drama in a strictly anthropological sense, it can be looked for in the fantastic dimension between reality and fiction than can be found in the dream. This aspect is masterfully expressed thanks to appropriate stage and musical choices both by Shakespeare and Britten that, in so doing, convey the concept of fantastic scene. As for music, the fantastic scene in Britten’s opera features the use of the harp which accompanies the whole scene and its developing with its spelling and special timbral effects masterfully chosen by the composer. To explain this musical aspect exhaustively, the symbolic structure has been analyzed starting from one of the most important composers and harpists in the 20th century, that is Carlos Salzedo, from which Britten has taken its musical hints featuring through all his A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

June 15, 2014
Copyright: © 2014 Alessandra Robles. This is an open-access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction is permitted, provided that the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. The license allows for commercial use. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.