Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, April 14 to 24, 2016

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

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An exploration of the musical and theatrical delights of A Midsummer Night's Dream.


 

Trailer from Opera McGill

While this January 2014 production by Opera McGill sets the opera in India, the video preview provides an enjoyable introduction to some of the music and the fascinating variety of scenes in A Midsummer Night's Dream..


 

Singers on why they love A Midsummer Night's Dream

As Glyndebourne prepares to revive Peter Hall's enduringly popular 1981 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream for its 2016 Festival, several of the performers talk about why they love this opera and Britten's music.

Britten writes so dramatically accurately ... the music and drama always mesh up...
What Britten has done with the piece is to make it even more alluring, even more charming, even more seductive.


 

Act 1: Opening Scene

Listen to the unsettling sequence of major chords and the string portamenti that create the other-worldly, slightly threatening sound of the wood – and its not-always-benevolent inhabitants, the Fairies.

This video is from Peter Hall's 1981 Glyndebourne production. The New York Times noted at the time that it was

filled with shimmering magic and melting ravishment... The opera, which follows Shakespeare's play, opens on a moonstruck stage. Black trees silhouetted against a silver sky whisper and rustle to the music. The flora are truly alive, human trees swaying and bowing their branches in balletic counterpoint to the singers.

In this scene, the fairies gather (Over hill, over dale). Then Oberon and Tytania arrive (Ill met by moonlight) and continue a bitter argument over a changeling boy: Oberon wants the boy to serve him. Tytania refuses to part with the child and storms off.

Damien Nash is Puck, with Ileana Cotrubas as Tytania, and James Bowman as Oberon. The London Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Bernard Haitink .


 

Act 1: Welcome, Wanderer

The role of Oberon, King of the Fairies, was written for countertenor Alfred Deller, at a time when this voice type was rarely heard even in Baroque music and hardly ever in contemporary works. Thus the very sound of the voice suggests something a bit alien to human experience. In addition, the vocal writing – which was tailor-made for Deller's vocal sound and range – is beautiful (again in a slightly bizarre way) and matches the words perfectly, especially the spine-tingling melisma on the word "eglantine," which also drops the interval of a major tenth at the end of the vocal line

Here are two versions of Oberon's aria "Welcome, Wanderer".

Above, American countertenor David Walker is Oberon, with Adrian Sarple as Puck in this 2002 production from Central City Opera

Oberon has sent Puck to collect an herb whose juice, when rubbed on a sleeper's eyelids, will cause him or her to fall madly in love with the next creature that comes into view. Oberon intends to use this magic potion on Tytania and force her to give up the changeling child. When Puck returns with the magic herb, Oberon tells him what he plans to do, takes a dose for Tytania and then instructs Puck to seek out Demetrius, whom he'll recognize by his Athenian clothes, and administer the rest to him so that he will fall in love with Helena.

Welcome, wanderer! Hast thou the flower there?
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
with sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
there sleeps Tytania sometime of the night...
with the juice of this I'll streak her eyes,
and make her full of hateful fantasies
.

Below, world-renowned countertenor David Daniels is Oberon, with Emil Wolk as Puck in the same scene, this time in a 2005 performance at Teatro del Liceu. Harry Bicket conducts Orquestra Simfonica del Gran Teatro del Liceu in the production by Opéra National de Lyon. The stage direction is by Robert Carsen.


 

Act 3, Asleep, My Love?

Here is the music from one of the comic highlights of the opera. The Rustic tradesmen try their hands at show business with side-splitting results, as they stage a play, entitled A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus and his love Thisby; very tragical mirth.

It is the tragedy of a young couple who whisper their love through a chink in the wall between their houses. When they arrange to meet, Thisbe is chased by a lion, Pyramus finds her mantle, believes her dead, and kills himself. She then finds his body and kills herself. The rustics portray all the parts – the lovers, the lion, even the wall and the moonshine.

In this excerpt, Thisby (played by Flute the bellows-mender) discovers Pyramus' body. Listeners may recognize in the byplay between Flute and the accompanying flute a parody of the mad scene in Lucia di Lammermoor

Asleep, my love? What, dead, my dove?
Pyramus, arise! Speak, speak. Quite dumb?
Dead, dead? A tomb must cover thy sweet eyes.
These lily lips, this cherry nose,
these yellow cowslip cheeks, are gone, are gone:
lovers, make moan: his eyes were green as leeks.
Tongue, not a word: come, trusty sword;
come, blade, my breast imbrue:
and, farewell, friends; thus Thisby ends:
(She stabs herself.)
Adieu, adieu, adieu.

Kenneth MacDonald is Flute in this 1967 recording, with Benjamin Britten conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.


 

Pyramus and Thisby: The Play within the Play

The Beatles tackle Shakespeare!

In April, 1964, during celebrations of the 400th birthday of William Shakespeare, the Beatles recorded this spoof of Pyramus and Thisby, the play within the play of A Midsummer NIght's Dream. Earlier that year, the Beatles had made their American debut on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Paul McCartney plays Pyramus, John Lennon is Thisbe, with Ringo Starr and George Harrison as Wall and Moonshine respectively. Trevor Peacock is in the role of Quince.

Robert Holliston and Maureen Woodall


 

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