“The course of true love never did run smooth.”

I am positive either Amina or I will have much more to say about Brian Reitzell’s original score at some point in the future, but for “Fromage”—an episode in which music takes on a newfound narrative importance—I want to focus on his contributions as music supervisor. 

Classical music frequently accompanies scenes with Hannibal—both diegetically and non-diegetically. Like his tailored suits or lavish meals, Hannibal’s demonstrated preference for certain composers help characterizes him as a cultured gentleman with refined tastes. They are an integral part of his person suit. One piece heard in “Fromage,” however, reveals an additional function of these music cues.

Upon deducing that Franklin’s troubled friend Tobias is the killer whom Team FBI is searching for, Hannibal invites him over for dinner to figure out why Tobias seems to have chosen him as the object of his deadly “serenade.” Classical music once again plays in the background as the pair sits down to eat. The Amazon Prime Video captions describe the piece as a “sonata for cello and piano.” I hear cello and flute, not piano, but no matter—the music choice artfully encapsulates the simmering exchange between the scene’s two players. 

Hannibal talks openly about the crime he suspects Tobias committed, but betrays no sign of concern or fear. In turn, Tobias impishly implies that he knows Hannibal kills people too. Tobias presumably reveals his knowledge in an attempt to endear himself to Hannibal—to propose something akin to friendship. Hannibal rejects the offer, perhaps determining that Tobias’s recklessness will compromise his cover. An unexpected appearance by Will interrupts the increasingly tense discussion about their intentions to kill one another. 

The music conjures an appropriately flurried energy, as cello and flute compete for melodic dominance. Together, the sonata and conversation convey not only the discernable theatrics between these two powerful forces but also the threats that remain unsaid. 

Further inspection—thanks, X-Ray feature on Amazon Prime Video—identifies the piece as an intermezzo composed by Felix Mendelssohn as incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We have never heard any part of this composition before and we never will again. Perhaps because it intends to characterize the specific scene more so than Hannibal. 

One of William Shakespeare’s most popular plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream playfully articulates the difficulties of love—particularly for those whose romantic feelings are not reciprocated. Mistaken identity and magical interference throw the passions of four young Greeks into chaos until symmetrical couplings resolve love triangles and restore the balance. 

“Fromage” features a similar parade of asymmetrical affection. Tobias serenades an averse Hannibal. Hannibal expresses his desire for a friendship with Will. (Whether or not Will wants Hannibal’s brand of friendship at this point is, let’s say, complicated.) And Will breaks his sexual tension with Alana, only for her to pump the brakes after a consensual kiss. Selecting music from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream thus seems a deliberate reference to the episode’s recurring theme of troubled romance. Using this particular piece for this specific scene perhaps carries its own significance. 

When performed, the intermezzo appears at the conclusion of Act II, scene ii. Hermia awakens to find her lover, Lysander, missing. Fleeing an arranged marriage to elope in another city, the couple had previously stopped to sleep in a forest glade. Unbeknownst to Hermia, however, a mischievous fairy had mistakenly afflicted a slumbering Lysander with a love potion. Lysander then forgets his affection for Hermia and falls deeply in love with her friend, Helena. (She, of course, loves Hermia’s spurned betrothed, Demetrius.) Lysander subsequently abandons Hermia to follow Helena through the woods. “I swoon almost with fear,” Hermia says. “Either death or you I’ll find immediately.” (2.2, 160-2).  

Is Tobias the Hermia of this scene? He believes himself aligned with Hannibal, only to discover Hannibal indifferent and mildly hostile. Even with Lysander absent, Hermia fears a similar response. Before waking, she dreamed of Lysander watching her, “smiling,” as a “serpent ate my heart away” (2.2.155-6). As with Hermia, Tobias is unaware that the object of his affection has eyes for someone else. And similar to Lysander, Hannibal soon finds his own romantic feelings unreturned. The scene ends with Will dropping by to brief Hannibal about his kiss with Alana like a lovesick teenager. (In a Shakespearian aside, let me just say that Hannibal asking why Will “felt compelled to drive an hour in the snow to tell me about it” is high school-level perfection.) 

The casting of Tobias, Hannibal, Will, and Alana as Hermia, Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius, respectively, does not survive the episode. Lysander does not kill Hermia in the end; he marries her. But it is fun to speculate. We do not need to recognize the music in order to understand either the text or subtext of the scene, but knowing its provenance does offer a nice meta bonus for certain viewers. I cannot say for sure whether Reitzell chose this piece for this or any other reason, but if he did see the connection, it only further demonstrates the incredible amount of thought that went into every element of this show. 

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