Benjamin Britten’s operatic setting of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream depicts a chaotic evening of three intertwining stories which take place in enchanted woodland on the outskirts of Athens.
Opening in the middle of a bitter feud between the King and Queen of the Fairies, the opera immerses the audience in a world of magic and mayhem. Whilst Oberon the king plots to humiliate Tytania, his lover, he spots Hermia and Lysander who have fled Athens to elope. Helena, who is passionately in love with Demetrius, follows him as he pursues Hermia whom he intends to marry.
Far from the chaos of the lovers, but not free of the mischievous eye of Puck; a group of rude mechanicals begin to rehearse a play which they hope to perform for the Duke. To obey his master Oberon, Puck uses his fairy magic to bewilder Bottom and to make a fool of Tytania. With the Duke’s wedding fast approaching, will any of these stories resolve themselves before sunrise?
Britten was born in Lowestoft on November 22nd, aptly St Cecilia’s day (the patron saint of music) and is one of the most significant British composers of all time. His work is world renowned be that his orchestral works, choral music, arts songs or of course his opera. Having written Peter Grimes, Billy Budd, The Turn of the Screw and A Midsummer Night’s Dream it is easy to see how this great composer gained such a fantastic reputation. In 1976 Britten accepted a life peerage - the first musician to do so and sadly passed away from heart disease later that year.
Cast and Creatives
Location: The Winter Garden
Sheffield's impressive multi award-winning Winter Garden is one of the largest temperate glasshouses to be built in the UK during the last hundred years and is home to approximately 2,000 plants from around the world. With direct access from Millennium Galleries and Millennium Square, the Winter Garden is the perfect oasis in the heart of the City.
Bernard Lee, Sheffield Telegraph, 8th August 2013
If you were planning to go to Britten’s opera and haven’t got tickets, check availability.
The opening night was a sell out, albeit with many paying on the door. The reception at the end was noisy to say the least and the large cast, without an exception, merited the adulation.
It is superbly sung throughout and a fair number of individual performances would not be out of place on the professional opera stage. Having said that, most of the largely Sheffield based young cast already sing in a professional capacity. A big break must surely beckon sooner or later.There are so many fine performances, space would soon be gobbled up even beginning to mention them and there are other issues to consider.
It is impossible to avoid mentioning one as it surrounds the controversial casting of a mezzo-soprano as Oberon, a role Britten wrote specifically for the pioneering counter-tenor Alfred Deller. Consequently, the part lies low for a mezzo and is to Rosie Middleton’s eternal credit that she copes with the tessitura magnificently. Naturally, though, without the ethereal quality Britten had in mind. The decision was based on director Louise Pymer’s production concept for the work, which doesn’t unduly get in the way of Britten’s conception, just shifts the emphasis a little.
It remains instantly recognisable Shakespeare and the production moves fluently with some nice touches and is splendidly acted and, indeed, the opera does work extremely well in the unlikely space. Sadly, Britten’s highly atmospheric instrumental score is barely recognisable on a piano for all the sterling efforts of Ewan Gilford. They simply couldn’t afford an orchestra.
How one is missed throughout to portray the infinitesimal layering of subtly shifting colours and harmonies that give the work its quality of magic. The uniform strength of the singing is some compensation.