William Shakespeare in the Chandos Portrait
William Shakespeare in the Chandos Portrait
To this day, poet and playwright William Shakespeare is considered to be the greatest writer in the English language and is often referred to only as "The Bard". With about 38 plays, over 150 sonnets and various other verses, he is the most performed playwright and his works have been translated into virtually every major language. Not surprisingly, the numbers of those he influenced are immense, be it other writers, composers, painters or choreographers. This Saturday, April 23, 2016, sees the 400th anniversary of the great writer's death. To mark the occasion, we have compiled a playlist of Bachtrack favourites, all works based on or inspired by works of Shakespeare - enjoy!

Mark Pullinger chose Verdi's Otello, one of the finest translations from Shakespeare to the operatic stage; Verdi was tempted out of retirement to compose it. He had a life-long love of Shakespeare and had much earlier set Macbeth and would go on to write Falstaff. Inspired by Arrigo Boito's libretto, his Otello brilliantly matches the Bard's play for its great psychological portrait of the Moor. Choosing a single clip or interpretation is impossible, but if forced, I'd opt for Renata Tebaldi singing Desdemona's Willow Song and Ave Maria from Act IV, where she has a premonition that her life is shortly to come to its end. Tebaldi's creamy spinto is perfect for the role. 



David Karlin also went for Verdi's Otello and Jago’s “Credo in un dio crudel”, the epitome of operatic evil. And here is the most incomparable of operatic villains, Tito Gobbi:



Nicolas Schotter opted for "O let me weep" from Purcell's Fairy Queen. He's a big fan of Purcell's music, and this interpretation by Sylvia MacNair is very delicate.

For Dance Editor Alexandra Desvignes, it has to be Romeo and Juliet. "There are many, many movements to choose from, but let's celebrate love with Alessandra Ferri and Angel Corella. It's the best Romeo and Juliet, and I have seen so many! Alessandra IS Juliet." Here she is in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's version of the Balcony pas de deux in Act I.

Director Alison Karlin opted for something unexpected - Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, which bring together the sweet and innocent love of Tony (Romeo) for Maria (Juliet) and the underlying tension and ready violence which lie at the heart of the story.

Hedy Muehleck agreed with Mark in that it is practically impossible to chsose just one work out of the many magnificent pieces out there and was torn between Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream and the heartrendering Death Scene, the final pas de deux in Macmillan's Romeo and Juliet. Eventually she settled for something entirely different: Roger Quilter's setting of a Cymbeline poem, Fear no more the heat o' the sun.

Spanish Editor Mario Muñoz has chosen Desdemona's Song from Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Songs to words by William Shakespeare, op.31 for Korngold's outstanding melodic capacity visible in this piece. He uses few resources and an expressive universe very close to the opera even though it's a lied. Beautiful music for beautiful pain. Anne-Sofie von Otter is the best choice for this, too.


If you haven't had enough of Shakespeare yet, why not have a look at our recent reviews and articles of Shakespearean works?