Le songe d'une nuit d'été

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Opera dates
Title: The midsummer night's dream
Original title: Le songe d'une nuit d'été
Title page of the libretto, Brussels 1850

Title page of the libretto, Brussels 1850

Shape: Opéra-comique in three acts
Original language: French
Music: Ambroise Thomas
Libretto : Joseph-Bernard Rosier and Adolphe de Leuven
Premiere: April 20, 1850
Place of premiere: Salle Favart, Opéra-Comique , Paris
Playing time: approx. 2 ¼ hours
Place and time of the action: England, late 16th century

Le songe d'une nuit d'été (German title: The Midsummer Night's Dream ) is an opéra-comique in three acts by Ambroise Thomas (music) with a libretto by Joseph-Bernard Rosier and Adolphe de Leuven . It was premiered on April 20, 1850 in the Salle Favart of the Opéra-Comique in Paris. Despite the title, it is not a processing of Shakespeare's comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream , but a free fantasy in which the poet (in the French form of the name "Shakspeare") appears together with Queen Elizabeth I and the park ranger Falstaff .


first act

The Siren pub in London; in the background an arched entrance gate; on the right the bank of the Thames; left a staircase to the banquet hall

Scene 1. Since Falstaff, the superintendent of the royal park in Richmond , has commissioned a banquet in honor of his friend, his poet William Shakspeare , the landlord Jérémy and his niece Nelly urge their employees to work (chorus: “Allons, point de paresse ").

Scene 2. Falstaff arrives and tries the wine ( Couplets Falstaff: “Allons, que tout s'apprète”).

Charles-Amable Battaille as Falstaff
Falstaff and the large elevator of the table service

Scene 3. Cooks, kitchen boys and wine waiters bring in the food in a parade (march and choir: “Le maître… le voici”).

Scene 4. Even before the invited guests arrive, Queen Elisabeth and her lady-in-waiting Olivia appear. After attending one of Spakspeares' plays, they got caught in a storm and are looking for shelter in the inn. As a precaution, they masked themselves (duet Élisabeth / Olivia: “Quel effroi, calme-toi”).

Scene 5. The two women immediately recognize Falstaff and joke with him. Since they look familiar, he tries to guess their identity, but is unsuccessful. Ultimately, he considers them to be costumed actors and invites them to his party (Terzett Élisabeth / Olivia / Falstaff: “Où courez vous mes belles”). Because there were some people of dubious rank among the other guests, he asked them to wait in the next room until the party had begun.

Scene 6. Shakspeare, his friend Latimer, actors, and other guests arrive. Everyone praises the guest of honor (choir: “Chantons sa gloire”). Shakspeare opens the festival (Couplets Shakspeare: "Enfans que cette nuit est belle").

Scene 7. The guests flock to the banquet room. Only the compulsively jealous Latimer remains behind as he misses his lover Olivia. Shakspeare tries to distract him until he is called into the hall by the others.

Scene 8. While the guests are happily drinking in the background, Latimer ponders his love for Olivia (Romance Latimer: “Son image si chère”).

Scene 9. Falstaff picks up Elisabeth and Olivia from the next room. Both remain masked, especially since Olivia has noticed her admirer. Falstaff claims he wants to take the two of them to his apartment in Richmond for a rendezvous.

Scene 10. The meanwhile drunk Shakspeare leaves the banquet room because he wants to hang out with Nelly. Elisabeth is shocked to find the poet she admires in this condition. Your attempts to bring him to his senses fail miserably. Since he is attracted to the masked lady, he pushes everyone else out.

Queen Elizabeth in disguise admonishes Shakspeare

Scene 11. When she is alone with Shakspeare, Elisabeth steadfastly refuses to take off her mask. Instead, she admonishes him to change his vicious life. Shakspeare, however, reaches for the wine again (Couplets Shakspeare: “Je trouve au fond du verre”) and finally falls asleep in a daze. Elisabeth decides to bring him back to his senses as his "guardian spirit" in order to save her and England's honor ( Cavatine Élisabeth: "Le voir ainsi").

Scene 12. The now also drunk guests come out of the hall and riotously demand more wine (chorus and scene: “Allons donc, tavernier du Diable”). Falstaff, Latimer and the landlord can hardly keep them in check. Despite the hustle and bustle, Elisabeth manages to get a message to Falstaff: He is supposed to bring Shakspeare to Richmond Park. Only now does Falstaff realize to his horror that she is actually the queen. Latimer has also recognized Olivia in the meantime and can barely dispel his jealousy of Falstaff. The guests withdraw carefully so as not to fall into the hands of the night watch.

Second act

Falstaff brings Shakspeare, who fell asleep in the intoxication, to the royal park

Richmond Castle Park; on the left a Gothic pavilion with a door on the side; Night; Moonlight; in the background a boat

Scene 1. Introduction. In the boat, Falstaff brings Shakspeare, who is still sleeping, into the park. Forest rangers arrive from different sides and give each other horn signals.

Scene 2/1. The forest rangers sing about their important work in the park (choir: “Gardes de la Reine”).

Scene 3/2. Falstaff and the forester Jarvis join them, and Falstaff tells a creepy story about the "wild hunter" (Ballad Falstaff: "Dans l'ombre de la nuit").

Scene 4/3. After the forest rangers leave, Falstaff meets Latimer, who asks him about his relationship with the veiled women. Falstaff swears “by his bottle” that “the brittle one” loves him very much (duet Latimer / Falstaff: “Et s'il vous faut une preuve”) and shows him a bouquet with a green ribbon as proof. Latimer is furious with jealousy, but asks for further proof. Falstaff then claims that she will be coming to his house shortly. Latimer wants to wait for her there and forcibly pulls Falstaff away with him.

Scene 5/4. At that moment Olivia appears in the park. Falstaff can tear himself away and runs away. Olivia assures Latimer of her unbroken loyalty. Although she can't give him a plausible answer to his question about the bouquet, she still wears his mother's ring. Latimer doesn't believe her and runs away in despair. Olivia enters the pavilion sadly.

Scene 6/5. Shakspeare is gradually waking up and wondering how he got to this place. At the same time, Élisabeth steps out of the pavilion and watches him from a distance while she sings a wordless melody ( stanzas and vocalises Shakspeare / Élisabeth: "Oú suis-je"). Shakspeare still half in a dream thinks the veiled Elisabeth is Juliet from his drama Romeo and Juliet and himself is Romeo.

Scene 7/6. Élisabeth imagines Shakspeare as his own genius who wants to lead him back on the path of fame (duet Élisabeth / Shakspeare: "Non, je ne suis pas Juiliette"). She reminds him how his life would develop should his genius leave him. She also promises him a loving wife and children. Shakspeare then realizes that he is not facing a ghost, but a real woman. Overcome by feelings, he asks her to take off her veil. When he turns around for a moment, Elisabeth flees into the pavilion. At the same moment Olivia comes out.

Scene 8/7. Shakspeare assumes he spoke to Olivia. He takes her hand and swears his love for her (scene and chorus: "Reste, ah! Reste encore").

Scene 9/8. Latimer sees them both in this precarious situation. He rejects all of Olivia's pledges of innocence, challenges Shakspeare to a duel and hurries away. Shakspeare tries to follow him, but Olivia faints and calls for help.

Shakspeare realizes that the unknown lady is the queen

Scene 10/9. Elisabeth hurries out of the pavilion with her veil thrown back to stand by her lady-in-waiting. Shakspeare recognizes from her voice that he had previously spoken to the Queen herself. Elisabeth tells him to be silent and goes back to the pavilion with Olivia.

Scene 11/10. Latimer returns and urges Shakspeare to fight, sword in hand. Both fight.

Scene 12/11. Falstaff and the forest rangers rush to separate the fighting. However, they are able to break free and continue fighting in the background until Latimer falls and Shakspeare flees, believing he has killed him.

Third act

Magnificent audience hall in the Palace of Whitehall ; in the background a gallery; right and left curtains in front of the doors

Scene 1. Élisabeth suffers from the fact that her life is lonely in spite of all its splendor and she is not allowed to love the man for whom her heart burns (inter-act music and Aria Élisabeth: "Malgré l'eclat qui m'environne").

Scene 2. Olivia and Elisabeth worry about the fate of Latimer. Elisabeth has summoned Falstaff to carefully listen to him about the exact course of the duel.

Scene 3. A page announces the arrival of Falstaff. Elisabeth first puts this under pressure by dictating to him the order to find a certain overseer of the royal park who uses the proceeds of the royal garden for himself and should therefore be hanged. As a test of his honesty, Falstaff has to tell the events of that night in great detail. Falstaff, who refuses to admit that he neglected his duty of supervision that night, claims that nothing happened at all: "The deer screamed, the nightingale struck, the zephyr purred, the insects hummed and the aspen leaves trembled. “Through clever questions, Elisabeth finally finds out the truth: Latimer was not injured, but rather fainted from excitement during the duel. His opponent, who thought he was dead, fled. He then jumped over a wall in confusion and fell into the Thames, where he was rescued by boatmen and brought home. Elisabeth lets Falstaff swear silence - he should stick to his original version of the story and never received the assignment to bring Shakspeare to Richmond. She asks him to follow her into the next room so that Olivia Latimer can speak alone.

Scene 4. Olivia is relieved that nothing has happened to Latimer (Romance Olivia: “Le ciel axauce ma prière”).

Scene 5. When Latimer enters, he immediately demands the ring back from his mother. He is firmly convinced that Olivia has cheated on him and cannot be convinced otherwise, especially since Olivia has to remain silent about the real events (duet Olivia / Latimer: “Je suis trahi”).

The Queen makes Shakspeare believe that his adventure was a midsummer night's dream

Scene 6. When the page announces the arrival of Shakspeare, Elisabeth returns and orders Latimer to wait in the next room.

Scene 7. Elisabeth tries to convince Shakspeare that what happened in the park was just his imagination. However, he explains that there were two other witnesses in addition to her, including her lady-in-waiting Olivia.

Scene 8. Elisabeth sends for Olivia. According to the agreement, this denies having been in the park. She spent the night in the presence of the queen in the palace. She doesn't want to know anything about the duel either. Elisabeth adds that it was just a "Midsummer Night's Dream" (song Elisabeth: "C'est un rève"). The two women leave Shakspeare alone.

Scene 9. Confused, Shakspeare goes over his memories again.

Scene 10. Shakspeare asks Falstaff about what happened last night. He obeys his orders: "The deer have screamed ..." Then Shakspeare sees Latimer in the background of the scene talking to a courtier. So he obviously didn't kill him.

Scene 11. To his deep disappointment, Shakspeare is now convinced that it was actually just a dream. He just wants to die (Shakspeare romance: “Un songe, hélas”).

Scene 12. Elisabeth orders Shakspeare to stay alive and continue his work. In doing so, she indicates that last night may not have been a dream after all. But he should never tell about it.


Scene 13. Latimer overheard the conversation behind the curtain and now knows that Olivia is innocent. He begs her forgiveness for his behavior and asks her to take back his ring. Olivia forgives him. Shakspeare promises his friend Falstaff that he will live forever in his works. Courtiers appear (chorus: "Vive notre Reine") and join in the hymn of praise for Shakspeare (hymn Élisabeth: "Dieu le veut").


In Le songe d'une nuit d'été , Ambroise Thomas unites different operatic styles of his time. In addition to typical elements of opéra-comique such as the quick dialogues, scenes of confusion, the duel and the happy ending, there are also serious undertones, for example the renunciation of one's own happiness for political reasons or the high appreciation of art and the artist, as it is "Genius cult" of the 19th century corresponded. The implied love between Shakspeare and the Queen is transformed into a connection between artist and patron. The happy ending is reserved for the second couple Olivia / Latimer.

The dominant motif of the overture is a march with an unusual rhythm. The duet Shakspeare / Élisabeth in the second act is an example of Thomas' art of musically translating the different levels of meaning of the text. The queen awakens the poet's erotic desire not with her beauty, but with her voice. Robert Ignatius Letellier named Falstaff's Couplets (I: 2), the waiters 'parade (I: 3), the trio (I: 5), the forest rangers' choir (II: 2), Shakspeare's visions ( II: 6), the duet Olivia / Latimer (III: 5) and the song Élisabeths (III: 8), accompanied only by flute and string pizzicati , which was often used as an encore. The instrumentation shows Thomas' growing abilities in this area, especially in the inter-act music.


The orchestral line-up for the opera includes the following instruments:

Music numbers

The piano reduction by Eugène Vauthrot, published around 1857, lists the following musical numbers (German titles based on the translation by Carl Gollmick ):

first act

  • No. 1. Introduction
    • Choir: "Allons, point de paresse" - "Up, up, just not hesitating" (scene 1)
    • Couplets (Falstaff): "Allons, que tout s'apprète" - "Up, let joy live" (scene 2)
    • March and choir: "Le maître ... le voici" - "The master ... he's waiting" (scene 3)
    • Duet (Élisabeth, Olivia): “Quel effroi, calme-toi” - “O, what a storm! what a wild romp! "(Scene 4)
  • No. 2. Trio (Élisabeth, Olivia, Falstaff): “Où courez vous mes belles” - “Well, where are you going, ladies?” (Scene 5)
  • No. 3.
    • Choir: "Chantons sa gloire" - "Dem Dichter Preis" (scene 6)
    • Couplets (Shakspeare): "Enfans que cette nuit est belle" - "Let friends joke the night" (scene 6)
  • No. 4. Romance (Latimer): "Son image si chère" - "Only her love" (scene 8)
  • No. 5. Finale
    • Couplets (Shakspeare): "Je trouve au fond du verre" - "Well, that's how I want to drink" (scene 11)
    • Cavatine (Élisabeth): "Le voir ainsi" - "So to see him" (scene 11)
    • Choir and scene (Latimer, Falstaff, Jérémy, Élisabeth, Olivia): "Allons donc, tavernier du Diable" - "Lazy landlord, do you want to make an effort?" (Scene 12)

Second act

  • No. 6.
    • Between act music (scene 1 / -)
    • Choir: "Gardes de la Reine" - "Let us watch carefully" (Scene 2/1)
    • Ballad (Falstaff): "Dans l'ombre de la nuit" - "In black midnight" (scene 3/2)
  • No. 7. Duet (Latimer, Falstaff): "Et s'il vous faut une preuve" - ​​"And should you still have any doubts" (Scene 4/3)
  • No. 8. Finale
    • Stanzen und Vokalisen (Shakspeare, Élisabeth): "Oú suis-je" - "Where am I?" (Scene 6/5)
    • Duet (Élisabeth, Shakspeare): "Non, je ne suis pas Juiliette" - "No, I am not Julia's shadow" (scene 7/6)
    • Scene and choir (Olivia, Shakspeare, Latimer, Falstaff): “Leftovers, ah! reste encore "-" Stay, stay! "(Scene 8/7)

Third act

  • No. 9. Between act music and aria (Élisabeth): "Malgré l'eclat qui m'environne" - "May your Highness surround me too" (scene 1)
  • No. 10.
    • Romance (Olivia): "Le ciel exauce ma prière" - "My supplication to heaven was heard" (scene 4)
    • Duet (Olivia, Latimer): "Je suis trahi" - "I will be betrayed" (scene 5)
  • No. 11. Song (Élisabeth): "C'est un rève" - ​​"Refugee dream" (scene 8)
  • No. 12. Romance (Shakspeare): "Un songe, hélas" - "So it was a dream" (scene 11)
  • No. 13. Finale
    • Choir: "Vive notre Reine" - "Hoch leb 'Elisabeth" (scene 13)
    • National anthem (Élisabeth): "Dieu le veut" - "Your name is praised far and wide" (scene 13)

Work history

Between 1849 and 1851 Ambroise Thomas composed three comic operas for the Paris Opéra-Comique , all of which were successful: Le Caïd ( The Kadi, 1849), Le songe d'une nuit d'été ( The Midsummer Night's Dream, 1850) and Raymond ou Le secret de la Reine ( Raymond, 1851). The libretto for Le songe d'une nuit d'été was written by Joseph-Bernard Rosier and Adolphe de Leuven . It may have been based on a tabloid piece, but no details are known about it.

Thomas wrote the vocal parts of the main roles specifically for the intended singers, especially for the coloratura soprano Delphine Ugalde (Élisabeth) and the bass bass Charles-Amable Battaille (Falstaff). Ugalde was ill at the time of the premiere on April 20, 1850 in the Salle Favart and was only able to take up her role later. Constance-Caroline Faure-Lefèbvre stood in for them in the premiere. Sophie Grimm (Olivia), Joseph-Antoine-Charles Couderc (William Shakspeare) and Jean-Jacques Boulo (Lord Latimer) also played the leading roles . Directed by Toussaint-Eugène-Ernest Mocker.

Eduard Hanslick condemned the text sharply because it contained the names of Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare "as a figurehead for a romantic invention of the most impossible kind". On the other hand, he found the opera itself "graceful with that comedy-like intensification that characterizes the French play opera, and with music full of graceful details".

From April 19, 1886, the work was played again at the Opéra-Comique. For this purpose, Thomas created a new version in which he replaced most of the dialogues with recitatives or a passage from Shakspeares in the first act with an arioso . He also added a trio in the third act. He adapted the original tenor part of Shakspeare to the baritone position of the singer Victor Maurel .

Title page of the piano reduction by Eugène Vauthrot

Eugène Vauthrot wrote the piano reduction. Scenes from the opera were chosen as a motif for a series of Liebig pictures in 1893 .

Other performances included:

  • 1850: Brussels, Théâtre de la Monnaie
  • 1852: Frankfurt am Main; German version by Carl Gollmick
  • 1852: New York, Niblo's Garden; Guest performance by a French opera company
  • 1853: Berlin, Friedrich-Wilhelmstädtisches Theater ; first in French, then in German
  • 1854: Vienna
  • 1854: Geneva
  • 1854: Buenos Aires
  • 1897: Padua; Italian version by Angelo Zanardini
  • 1898: Glasgow; English version by William Beatty-Kingston entitled A Poet's Dream
  • 1900: Paris, Opéra-Populaire
  • 1915: Paris, Trianon-Lyrique
  • 1937: Brussels
  • 1994: Compiègne , Théâtre Impérial; on the occasion of the opening of the Eurotunnel ; Director: Pierre Jourdan, conductor: Michel Swierczewski


  • May 7, 1994 - Michel Swierczewski (conductor), Pierre Jourdan (director), Orchester Symphonique de la Radio Télévision de Cracovie, Chœurs du Théâtre Français de la Musique.
    Ghyslaine Raphanel (Élisabeth), Cécile Besnard (Olivia), Michaela Mingheras (Nelly), Alain Gabriel (William Shakspeare), Franco Ferrazzi (Lord Latimer), Jean-Philippe Courtis (Falstaff), Gilles Dubernet (Jérémy).
    Video; live from the Théâtre Impérial Compiègne .
    Cascaravelle VELD 7002 (1 DVD).

Digital copies

Web links

Commons : Le songe d'une nuit d'été  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. According to the libretto. In Piper's Encyclopedia of Musical Theater , Jérémy and Wirt are given as two separate roles.
  2. In Piper's Encyclopedia of Music Theater , the French “huissier” (from scene III: 3) is translated as “bailiff”. The more appropriate term “Page” is taken from the German translation by Carl Gollmick .
  3. a b In the German version, the introduction does not have its own scene number. The following numbers of the second act are therefore shifted forward by one.

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f g h i j Annegret Fauser: Le Songe d'une nuit d'été. In: Piper's Encyclopedia of Musical Theater . Volume 6: Works. Spontini - Zumsteeg. Piper, Munich / Zurich 1997, ISBN 3-492-02421-1 , pp. 282-284.
  2. Compared with the information in the libretto.
  3. ^ A b Richard Langham Smith:  Thomas, (Charles Louis) Ambroise. In: Grove Music Online (English; subscription required).
  4. ^ A b c d Robert Ignatius Letellier: Opéra-Comique. A sourcebook. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne 2010, ISBN 978-1-4438-2140-7 , pp. 680-681.
  5. April 20, 1850: “Ambroise Thomas”. In: L'Almanacco di Gherardo Casaglia .
  6. ^ The Yorck Project : Liebig's collecting pictures. 2002, p. 2034 ff.
  7. ^ Charles Louis Ambroise Thomas. In: Andreas Ommer: Directory of all complete opera recordings (= Zeno.org . Volume 20). Directmedia, Berlin 2005, p. 18796.