Benjamin Britten’s take on Shakespeare’s seminal comedy comes to life in a brand new production.
English may not be nearly as popular as Italian, German or French in the world of opera, but there are more productions than most assume. Fortunately, the Theater an der Wien has sought to emphasize that, offering a brand new production of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as its latest salvo. Hot on the heels of Georg Friedrich Händel’s Saul earlier this year, Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen last year and Britten’s own Peter Grimes in 2015, the opera based on Shakespeare’s comedy of the same name also continues the theater’s focus on the Bard, reuniting director Damiano Michieletto and conductor Antonello Manacorda who worked together on Rossini’s Otello in 2016.
Britten and his partner, Peter Pears, used Shakespeare’s original text almost verbatim for the libretto.
The story of Hermia, Helena, Demetrius and many others’ amorous troubles is well known, but the eventual performance of Pyramus and Thisbe in Act III contains a cheeky surprise: Britten uses it as a dig at Italian opera, adding some levity of his own to the comedy.
Reviving British opera three centuries after Henry Purcell, Britten’s opera always keeps his predecessors who put Shakespeare to music in mind: Purcell, Carl Maria von Weber and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. In Britten’s version, Oberon is a countertenor and Titania a coloratura soprano, a rather unusual vocal choice. With Bejun Metha as Oberon, Ann-Beth Solvang as Hippolyta and the Wiener Symphoniker, A Midsummer Night’s Dream offers a stellar cast, even if it’s only spring.