University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Shakespeare: Richard The Third

11/19/2017 1:00 pm
11/19/2017 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

Spoken word presentations have always been part of my broad spectrum concept of lyric theater programming. I have broadcast recordings of many of the plays of William Shakespeare. Often these were on early stereo Decca/Argo LPs. These studio recordings, made between 1957 and 1964, were part of Decca’s series of the complete recorded works of the Bard, issued in commemoration of the four hundredth anniversary of his birth. It was an audio project of historic significance equal to Decca’s first-ever complete studio recording series of Wagner’s Ring cycle of operas made during the same period with Georg Solti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and a singing cast of some of the greatest operatic voices of the mid twentieth century. Decca’s Shakespeare project engaged renowned director George Rylands and the Marlowe Society of Cambridge University, plus other “professional players” who were the best Shakespearean actors and actresses that Britain had to offer. Many of them remain famous names even now in the twenty first century.

In 2016 the entire Decca Shakespeare series- all thirty seven plays, the sonnets and narrative poems- was reissued on compact disc to mark the four hundredth anniversary of the playwright’s death. I have acquired the 100 CD boxed set, and I draw upon its discs again this Sunday as I did in November of 2016 with Hamlet and in February of this year with Measure for Measure and in April with As you Like It. Now listen to Richard The Third (1597-earlier?) starring Patrick Wymark as the evil genius and deformed monster who would be king. He appears in an earlier history play, Henry VI, Part Three as the dark figure of the Duke of Gloucester. The history plays of Shakespeare could be considered “epic theater”, a theatrical genre that continues to find echoes even up to the present day in things like the TV series Game of Thrones. This particular Shakespeare play is also a tragedy looking toward later masterpieces like Hamlet. Shakespeare wrote the role of Richard of Gloucester for his actor colleague Richard Burbage, who would soon become the first Hamlet. In its style of verse Richard III compares well with that of Shakespeare’s senior playwright colleague Christopher Marlowe, or even surpasses Marlowe.