(Rupert Chrisiansen’s aricle appeared in the Telegraph 8/9.)

As we present our Glyndebourne stream of 'Béatrice et Bénédict’, Rupert Christiansen asks why so many composers love the Bard

At the last scholarly count, almost 300 operas have been drawn fromShakespeare’s plays. These range from The Fairy Queen, Purcell’s late 17th-century fantasia on the theme of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to musty obscurities such as von Lichtenstein’s 19th-century Ende gut, alles gut (All’s Well that Ends Well), and modern novelties such as Brett Dean’s Hamlet and Ryan Wigglesworth’s The Winter’s Tale – both of which receive their world premieres next season, at Glyndebourne and the London Coliseum respectively. 

In general, it is plot and character, rather than Shakespeare’s poetic language, that have provided the inspiration for operas based on his plays. Although Britten used Shakespeare’s text for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, cutting it drastically but leaving it otherwise virtually unchanged, this is an unusual practice. The great majority of composers have worked up completely new librettos, which make only general or passing reference to the original words. 

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