Home > Reviews > A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM – Simon Boswell


midsummernightsdreamOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

A film score that opens with the entire 11-minute Overture from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream can’t be all bad, and in fact this album from Decca is one of the finest examples I have heard with regards to combining true classical music with modern film music into a satisfying, enjoyable whole. Director Michael Hoffman restaged Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in renaissance-era Tuscany, allowing him to shroud his film in the sights and sounds of one of the history’s most romantic periods. As a result, the images on screen glow with vivid shades of green and gold, reveling in the opulence of luxurious production design, glittering costumes and natural, healthy beauty. For those who don’t know the play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream follows the fortunes of four bickering lovers: Helena (Calista Flockhart), who loves Demetrius (Christian Bale), who loves Hermia (Anna Friel), who loves Lysander (Dominic West). One midsummer’s night, the four venture into the woods near their home and become embroiled in the war of words between Oberon (Rupert Everett), the king of the fairies, and his bride Titania (Michelle Pfeiffer). Receiving instructions from Oberon, the mischievous sprite Puck (Stanley Tucci), casts a spell which causes the four to fall regularly in and out of love with each other, turns an innocent weaver named Bottom (Kevin Kline), who is rehearsing a play in the same woods, into an ass, and causes Titania to fall in love with him.

Setting the film in 18th century Italy opened up a whole world of musical possibilities to Michael Hoffman, and seizing his chance, chose to score much of the movie with music by some of world’s best known Italian classical composers. Music from Verdi’s “La Traviata”, Puccini’s “La Bohème”, Bellini’s “Norma”, Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana”, Donizetti’s “L’Elisir D’Amore” and Rossini’s “La Cenenterola” feature prominently throughout the film, lending it an air of aural dignity and glory uncommon in films today. I can only dream of what would have happened had these geniuses been alive today and composing for feature films. In addition, a sizeable chunk of the music Mendelssohn wrote in response to this very play is incorporated into the mix, including the familiar “Wedding March”. The vocalists who perform the sumptuous arias include such famous names as Roberto Alagna, Cecilia Bartoli, Renée Fleming and Luciano Pavarotti.

Without wanting to sound unfair to Simon Boswell, there is no way in this world that he could have hoped to compose music that would be received on an equal footing to that of Verdi and Rossini, and I would imagine that the very prospect daunted him somewhat. Therefore, Boswell has gone down a very different road for his original score, embracing styles and techniques from countries as diverse as India, Bulgaria and Syria. For me, the two most interesting pieces of his score are the source music cues he created for the fairies themselves, ‘Hot Ice’ and ‘Strange Snow’. Here, Boswell has gathered together a vast array of unusual ethnic instruments and asked them to perform a series of vibrant dances which reverberate to mysterious woodwind instruments, unconventional items of percussion and all manner of bizarre things tooting and hooting in unison, accompanying the lively antics of the mischievous woodland spirits.

The other seven original cues are fluctuate between soft, romantic melodies not too dissimilar to some of Patrick Doyle’s Shakespeare scores for Kenneth Branagh, and darker, ethnically rich passages for some of the film’s less light-hearted moments. Pastoral strings, glassy harps and soothing woodwinds feature in several tracks, including the gently playful and beguiling ‘The Course of True Love’, the magical ‘I Know a Place Where the Wild Thyme Blows’ and the lovely ‘What Fools These Mortals Be’ with its cheery seven-note flute motif. Ragged flutes and distinctly Eastern scales feature in the more moody and mysterious ‘Between the Cold Moon and the Earth’ and ‘The Forgeries of Jealousy’, before concluding with a stirring finale, ‘A Most Rare Vision’, into which some of Mascagni’s famous Intermezzo music is incorporated. In total, Boswell’s score runs for 31:02, and offers a true insight into his largely undiscovered talents. Globally, Boswell is still very much regarded as a horror composer (he started his scoring career in Italy writing music for Dario Argento movies), but has more than proved his worth in other genres with a succession of superb scores including the vastly underrated Cousin Bette and the dark, Herrmannesque Perdita Durango.

Overall, this is a superb album which, for fans of both the classical and film music genres, offers an uncommon opportunity to sample some of the best that the other arena has to offer. It will also do Simon Boswell a great deal of good in terms of his own standing in the bigger scheme of things. Although his music may be vastly different to that of Mendelssohn, Verdi and Puccini, it nevertheless acts as a perfect counterpoint to the classics, and will surely act as a stepping stone for him to go on to be given the higher profile scoring opportunities he richly deserves.

Rating: ****½

Buy the Midsummer Night’s Dream soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Overture from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (written Felix Mendelssohn, performed by Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy) (11:30)
  • Brindisi from La Traviata (written by Giuseppe Verdi, performed by Renée Fleming and Marcello Giordani with London Voices, conducted by Terry Davies) (2:52)
  • Che Gelida Manina from La Bohème (written by Giacomo Puccini, performed by Luciano Pavarotti and Mirella Freni with the Berliner Philharmoniker, conducted by Herbert von Karajan) (4:36)
  • The Course of True Love (3:22)
  • Between the Cold Moon and the Earth (3:18)
  • Hot Ice (2:21)
  • The Forgeries of Jealousy (3:52)
  • I Know a Place Where the Wild Thyme Blows (4:13)
  • Casta Diva from Norma (written by Vincenzo Bellini, performed by Renée Fleming with London Voices, conducted by Terry Davies) (7:04)
  • Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana (written by Pietro Mascagni) (2:15)
  • What Fools These Mortals Be (2:47)
  • Strange Snow (3:33)
  • Fair Lovers You Are Fortunately Met (1:44)
  • Una Furtiva Lagrima from L’Elisir D’Amore (written by Gaetano Donizetti, performed by Roberto Alagna with L’Opéra National de Lyon, conducted by Evelino Pidò) (3:40)
  • The Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (written Felix Mendelssohn, performed by Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy) (4:59)
  • A Most Rare Vision (5:52)
  • Non Più Mesta from La Cenerentola (written by Gioacchino Rossini, performed by Cecilia Bartoli with Orchestra e coro del Teatro Communale di Bologna, conducted by Riccardo Chailly) (3:05)

Running Time: 71 minutes 33 seconds

Decca 466-098-2 (1999)

Music composed by Simon Boswell. Conducted and orchestrated by Terry Davies. Recorded and mixed by Geoff Foster and Tom Lazarus. Edited by Paul Rabjohns and Robert Randles. Mastered by Joe Gastwirt. Album produced by Simon Boswell, Michael Hoffman and Robin Urdang.

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