A Midsummer Night’s Dream
‘Lord, what fools these mortals be!’
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‘the magic lives on’
★★★★★ – Financial Times
About the opera
Hermia loves Lysander, but her father orders her to marry Demetrius. Helena loves Demetrius, but he only has eyes for Hermia…
In Shakespeare’s story of dreams and desires, four young lovers find themselves lost in a magical wood – playthings for the fairies who rule there. Inhibition gives way to exploration, as fantasy and reality collide over the course of one heady summer’s night.
An enchanted wood whispers and stirs, fairies sing their songs in moonlit choirs, a king and queen trade elegant insults and love blooms rich and strange in Benjamin Britten’s most bewitching score. Shakespeare’s comedy retains all of its charm in this witty, light-footed adaptation, but also gains new darkness in an intoxicating musical celebration of instinct and illicit desire. This may be a fairytale, but danger is never far away…
With its lavish costumes and magical, Arthur Rackham-inspired designs, Peter Hall’s production is a longstanding Festival favourite. Dalia Stasevska conducts.
A revival of the 1981 Festival production. Sung in English with supertitles.
Revival Director and Original Choreographer
Assistant to the Revival Choreographer
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Trinity Boys Choir
Director of Music
Lucy Burns, Maddy Brennan, Bianca Hopkins, Emily Piercy, Chloe Dowell, Andrew Hayler, Luke Murphy, Edward Stevens, Malachi Briant, Donny Ferris, Ashton Hall, Nick Frentz, Philip Ticehurst, Gowan Hewlett, Philip Dew, Adrian Bowd, Eddie Fownes, Spencer Nash
Zak Adjepong*, Alan Bernstein*, Bacchus Christie, Edith Christie, Freddie Dawe*, Sebastian Heitz*, Oliver Hull*, Sam Jackman*, Dennis Lalic*, Jonah Newlands*, Savith Peiris*, James Roberts*, Josh Webb*, Alex Wright*, Eden Namvar, Lyla Namvar
* Member of Trinity Boys Choir
Sebastian Selwood (16 July)
Soraya Mafi (22, 27, 30 July)
Frederick Jones (16 July)
Samuel Dale Johnson
Anna Cooper (17 August)
At night in the woods outside Athens, Oberon, King of the Fairies, argues with his queen Tytania over a young changeling boy; Oberon wants him for a henchman, but Tytania refuses to give him up. Oberon sends the sprite Puck to find a magical flower whose juice, sprinkled on Tytania’s eyelids, will cause her to fall in love with the first creature she sees upon waking. Oberon plans to steal the boy while Tytania is under the spell.
Lysander and his beloved Hermia have eloped to the forest from Athens, under whose law Hermia’s father can force her to marry Demetrius. Demetrius loves and pursues Hermia, while Helena, smitten with Demetrius, pursues him. But Demetrius rejects Helena in hopes of winning Hermia. Oberon has witnessed their quarrels and commands Puck to use the magic juice on Demetrius, too, so that he will fall in love with Helena.
Six craftsmen, or ‘mechanicals’, arrive in the forest to discuss a play they plan to perform at the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. They squabble over casting, but finally Bottom, the weaver, and Flute, the bellows-mender, agree to play the title roles, Pyramus and Thisbe, respectively. Quince, the carpenter, who is the play’s author and director, distributes scripts, and all agree to meet later that day to rehearse.
Lysander and Hermia lie down to sleep. Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and sprinkles the juice of the magic flower on Lysander’s eyes. Demetrius arrives with Helena in pursuit, but he spurns her. Helena sees Lysander and awakens him. Under the spell’s effect, Lysander is smitten and proclaims his love for Helena, who runs off, certain that he is mocking her. Hermia awakes from a nightmare to find herself alone.
Nearby, the fairies prepare their queen Tytania for sleep. Oberon slips in to sprinkle the magic juice on her eyes, trusting that she will ‘wake when some vile thing is near’.
Later in the day, the mechanicals meet to rehearse their play. Puck, observing them, decides to amuse himself by turning Bottom’s head into that of an ass. At the sight of this, the mechanicals flee in fear, much to Bottom’s confusion. Left alone, Bottom sings to keep his spirits up, which wakes Tytania, who falls instantly in love with Bottom. Aided by the fairies, she manages to seduce him.
Oberon is delighted to find Tytania in love with an ass. But when he sees Demetrius chasing Hermia, Oberon realises that Puck has made a mistake. When Demetrius falls asleep, Oberon sprinkles the magic juice on his eyes. Helena and Lysander arrive, waking Demetrius, who immediately falls in love with Helena. When Lysander rejects Hermia, Helena becomes convinced that her three companions are mocking her.
Furious at Puck, Oberon gives him an herbal antidote to dispense to Lysander. Puck then leads the lovers away through the forest. As they fall asleep, Puck applies the herb to Lysander’s eyes.
Shortly before sunrise, Oberon releases Tytania from the spell. The dawn awakens the four lovers, who are finally reconciled—Demetrius with Helena and Lysander with Hermia. Bottom, restored to completely human form, wakes from what he thinks was a strange dream. The other mechanicals have been searching for Bottom, and when they find him, he announces that their play has been chosen to be performed at court.
Back in Athens on Theseus’s and Hippolyta’s wedding day, the two couples lovers beg Theseus’s forgiveness for disobeying the law. Theseus pardons them, promising that they shall be married together with him and Hippolyta. The mechanicals finally perform their masterpiece, ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’. As the three mortal couples retire to bed, Oberon, Tytania, and the fairies bless the sleeping household, and Puck gets the last word.
Illustration © Katie Ponder