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David Roblou on his musical celebration of The Tempest

PUBLISHED: 16:37 29 April 2014 | UPDATED: 09:48 02 May 2014

Photo by Richard Haughton

Photo by Richard Haughton

copyright - Richard Haughton

As part of the Brighton Festival, director David Roblou will be presenting a musical voyage into the mysterious realms of The Tempest in celebration of the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth. Here he tells us what to expect from the show on 16 May

What can audience members expect from this “musical voyage into the mysterious realms of The Tempest”?

A stimulating mix of fascinating and varied music by fine composers other than only the great Henry Purcell, who rightly dominated English musical theatre of the time. However, figures like John Weldon command attention in their own right while earlier composers like Matthew Locke and Pelham Humphrey were also the masters of their day. Such habitués of the theatre wrote evocative music of great flamboyance and atmosphere, demanding an “over the top” performing style from singers and players alike! And the band is as varied as the music, with all the instruments available in London’s Restoration theatre.

The production is billed as a celebration of the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. Why was The Tempest the right choice?

For an ensemble specialising in early repertoire it’s the obvious choice – most English semi-operas, like The Tempest, are really plays with a lot of stage machinery, music and dancing thrown in to make a spectacular show, which means that to perform the music on its own often gives today’s audience little sense of the story behind it. Everyone knows the story of The Tempest, and more music was written for it than for any other adaptation of Shakespeare in the years after the Restoration. It was the most popular show in London for more than fifty years, and many of the pieces – Ariel’s songs in particular – resonate strongly with audiences today.

The Tempest is more associated with music than perhaps any other of Shakespeare’s plays: why?

Because of the supernatural element Shakespeare included lots of songs - for Ariel in particular. It was a convention in the Restoration theatre to include music where it wouldn’t necessarily cause any suspension of belief – in other words where it might occur naturally in real life! It was believed that supernatural beings sang, as did Arcadian shepherds and shepherdesses, so the appearance of such characters was always an opportunity for a song and dance routine, alongside the more earth-bound on-stage religious ceremonies, funerals, triumphal processions, ale-house romps, mad songs bemoaning unrequited love and such like – all occasions when music was a normal part of everyday life.

Why are festival performances important? Do you have any stand-out memories of festival performances you have experiences as an audience member?

One can take chances in festivals that might not be possible in the context of normal concert series. And festivals do seem to provide one of the major opportunities for promoting and exploring the arts in the present climate of financial restraint. Too many of the old music clubs have gone, and there seem to be far fewer concerts than there used to be outside the major centres like London, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle.

Two of the most outstanding experiences I’ve had as a listener have been a BBC Stockhausen festival at the Barbican; the composer introduced his work as well as that by other contemporaries such as Boulez. The other was a Ligeti Festival at the Southbank, again with the composer present. In both cases great music introduced by the composers, both of whom were great characters as well as entertaining and uncompromising speakers!

Have you performed at or visited Brighton Festival before? If so, what have been your impressions of the Festival?

Besides appearing with the New London Consort in performances of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas in recent years, during the 90s my own company, Midsummer Opera, performed Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at the Theatre Royal as part of the Festival.

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