Happy Midsummer (or just after Midsummer). Today was close to the longest day of the year, and I spent close to five ours of it absorbed in San Francisco Opera's fabulous production of Die Walküre. Not precisely a midsummer opera, though it does include some glorious music about spring. A couple of years ago, I gave a Midsummer Night’s Dream party (what’s more fun than a party with a Shakespearean theme?). Rushing around doing party prep, I was listening to Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music (one of my favorite musicals), and I found myself thinking about the allure of stories set on midsummer nights.
Shakespeare created a brilliant template with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Under a midsummer moon, lovers find and lose each other, friends become enemies and back again, lines are blurred between classes and between fairies and mortals. Until recently, I didn’t realize how much one of my favorite plays and movies, The Philadelphia Story, owes to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There’s the estranged/divorced married couple, the pre-wedding setting, the characters falling in love (and blurring class lines) under influence of a mind-altering drug, whether it’s the juice of a rare flower or Pommery champagne. Philip Barry even sets the play on midsummer night and explicitly refers to it by having Tracy’s younger sister Dinah say “it’s supposed to be the longest day of the year or something” (to which Tracy, coping with the escalating complications of her wedding day, replies, “I wouldn’t doubt it for a minute.”).
Then there’s A Little Night Music and the movie upon which it is based, Ingmar Bergman’s exquisite Smiles of a Summer Night. Once again lovers change partners beneath a midsummer moon (beautifully evoked by a waltz among birch trees in the opening of A Little Night Music). But while the majority of the lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Philadelphia Story end up back with their original partner (Demetrius being a notable exception) in A Little Night Music/Smiles of a Summer Night, the majority of the lovers change partners and end the story with the new partner. One might say that the events of the night help Frederik recover from the madness of his love for his child-bride Anne and back to his far more real love for his former mistress Desirée. “A coherent existence,” as Desirée puts it. Frederik, like The Philadelphia Story’s Tracy Lord, finds his eyes opened in the course of a midsummer night’s adventures.
Beneath a Silent Moon offers my own take on the midsummer night theme. I actually scoured A Midsummer Night’s Dream for quotes when looking for a title. for the book but couldn’t find one my publisher and I agreed on. I love Beneath a Silent Moon as a title (it was a suggestion of my agent, Nancy Yost) because while it isn’t a quote, to me it conjures up the moon imagery which is so prevalent in Dream. Perhaps not surprisingly, my version of midsummer madness includes lots of spies, smugglers, and secret meetings beneath a silent moon. But the elements are still there. Lovers find and lose each other, partners change, old loves are rekindled. Lovers and lunatics seem not so very far apart. “Love isn’t sensible,” Quen tells his former lover. “Love’s a fire that can’t be contained. Until it burns itself out.”
Writing this blog post, I realized Beneath a Silent Moon even offers it’s own dark twist on theme of a wedding party. Charles and Mélanie aren’t precisely estranged, but they are certainly struggling to define the dynamics of their marriage. And there’s a birch coppice which serves at the setting for midnight adventures, my own homage to the birch wood in A Little Night Music.
At the end of the book, Mélanie thinks, somewhat ironically, of the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 'Jack shall have Jill; Nought shall go ill'. I think that Charles, like Tracy and Frederick and Titania waking from enchantment, finds his eyes opened in the course of the story.
Do you like stories with midsummer settings? Any favorites? If you've written a book with a midsummer setting, how did the setting impact the story?