A Midsummer Night's Dream, Opera by B. Britten
The works of William Shakespeare have inspired many classical and contemporary composers to dress the Bard’s creativity and narrative gift with engaging and innovative music to match. A Midsummer Night’s Dream in particular has drawn the attention of many famous musical names, such as Henry Purcell, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy or Carl Maria von Weber, to name a few. However, the most successful and lasting opera version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream came from under the pen of British composer Benjamin Britten. The Vienna State Opera is staging the wondrous journey into the fantasy realm this season.
Britten, an avid Shakespeare fan, took it upon himself to adapt the famous play into a libretto, with a little help from his creative and personal partner, the British tenor Peter Pears. Assuming the complete creative control allowed the composer to create a close connection between words and melodies and apply his favourite compositional technique of ‘tonal painting’. Under this musical paradigm, the score imitates the on-stage action or dialogue: a character’s ascension on a staircase is matched by an upward melodic motion, or a sad conversation finds reflection in a slow-moving, minor orchestral accompaniment.
Due to Britten’s close pairing of narrative and music, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is stunningly atmospheric and offers a complete immersion into the fairy kingdom of Oberon and Titania. The premiere on 11 June 1960 at the Aldeburgh Festival in the United Kingdom was a stunning success. The opera quickly became part of the catalogue, and it ranks among the most popular post-WWII musical theatre works of all time. The unique tonal quality of Britten’s adaptation still sounds fresh and exciting, and the fantastical journey imagined by Shakespeare finds a worthy musical match. More than half a century after its first production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Wiener Staatsoper returns to this modern classical gem and asks you to dream again!