The Jubilee was one of the major triumphs of the first phase of Dibdin’s career, when he was working closely with the celebrated actor-manager, David Garrick (1717–79). Garrick organised a great Shakespeare festival, or “jubilee”, in Stratford-upon-Avon in September 1769: a landmark event in Shakespeare’s posthumous reputation and deification as Britain’s national Bard which has inspired several books. The three-day festival started auspiciously, and Dibdin’s cantata Queen Mab was a notable highlight of the first day, but unfortunately heavy rain on the second and third days forced the cancellation of many of the events and caused several comic mishaps. Not too upset, Garrick quickly adapted part of his planned celebration, with Dibdin’s music, for performance back in London at his own Drury Lane theatre. The Jubilee, or Shakespear’s Garland premiered there on 14 October, and proved immensely successful – the greatest triumph of Garrick’s careers as writer and manager. William Hopkins, the Drury Lane prompter, recorded “There never was an Entertainment produc’d that gave so much pleasure to all Degrees, Boxes, Pit and Gallery.”
The Jubilee is a celebration of Shakespeare’s greatness, but that greatness is rooted firmly in his broad popular appeal. The Shakespeare Garrick and Dibdin celebrate is a folk hero as much as a great poet, as highlighted in such lyrics as “For the lad of all lads was a Warwickshire lad” and “The pride of all nature was sweet Willy O.” Such a subject brought out Dibdin’s happiest melodic vein, and his delightful songs are fitted into a number of loosely-connected comic scenes, examining the impact on Stratford of a host of Shakespearean pilgrims. We’ll record all the main songs, with enough of the linking dialogue to make a coherent dramatic work.
Nearly three decades later, Dibdin returned to Shakespeare to celebrate the 1797 marriage of Princess Charlotte, George III’s eldest daughter, with Frederick I of Württemberg. By this time, Dibdin, renowned for his one-man shows, had his own London theatre, and he used this to present the serenata, Datchet Mead, or The Fairy Court. Datchet is a village near Windsor, and Dibdin drew on Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Merry Wives of Windsor as he imagined the fairies gathering outside Datchet to hymn the princess’s wedding. With its strong Windsor context and many references to royal nuptials combined with Dibdin’s natural lyricism and sense of fun, this seems to us the perfect way to commemorate the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and the CD will be dedicated to them.