A Midsummer Night's Dream
Benjamin Britten 1913-1976
Opera in 3 acts
First performed June 11 1960, Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh
Libretto by Benjamin Britten & Peter Pears based on William Shakespeare's play
Performed in English with German surtitles
Introduction (on video, in German) will appear here and on YouTube shortly before opening night
Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream had been set to music many times when Benjamin Britten and his life partner, the tenor Peter Pears, wrote the opera for the Aldeburgh Festival, which Britten founded. They remained true to the original play, but shortened it from five acts to three. It was originally to have been a chamber opera, but after Britten spotted the possibilities of conjuring up different worlds, mythical creatures, lovers and workmen in the play, he expanded the score for a larger orchestra. The result is a richly coloured composition in which the world of fairies, Oberon's countertenor, Titania's coloratura and Puck's spoken words, is shaped by harp, xylophone and celeste. The lovers are accompanied by strings and wind instruments, while the scenes with the workmen are fleshed out with lower woodwind and brass, double basses and percussion.
There's no love lost in the magic wood any longer. Jealousy and marital strife over a young Indian prince reign between Oberon and Titania. Oberon, longing for revenge, commissions Puck to procure a magic drink which makes men or women fall in love with whichever creature they see when they wake up. So the wood is a magic place of constant transformation: the weaver Bottom, rehearsing a play with his friends for the Duke and Duchess' wedding, is turned into a donkey in whom Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, falls in love. Then Puck trickles nectar from the magic flower into the wrong sleeping lovers eyelids, unleashing a pandemonium of emotions. The lovely hurly-burly, a summer night's dream, ends in the morning as a new day dawns.