Introducing... A Midsummer Night's Dream
A look at our classic production of Benjamin Britten's Shakespeare-inspired opera
With its lavish costumes and magical, Arthur Rackham-inspired designs, Peter Hall’s production is a longstanding Glyndebourne favourite and makes a much-anticipated return for Festival 2023.
In our latest short film, opera expert Alexandra Coghlan meets design historian Dr Ella Hawkins for a close up look at some of the production’s elaborate Elizabethan style costumes. Meanwhile, baritone Brandon Cedel comes face-to-face with the donkey head that he’ll be wearing during the production, and demonstrates what it’s like to sing while your whole head is completely enclosed.
A brief introduction
Shakespeare’s comedy of warring lovers casts a heady spell in Benjamin Britten’s bewitching opera. Magic, mischief and passion are the main ingredients in an operatic love potion that’s impossible to resist.
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.
Although the majority of the libretto is drawn directly from Shakespeare’s original text, the play is substantially cut and reorganised to work as an opera, with inevitable implications for the tone, emphasis and focus of the drama which is more ambiguous and subversive than Shakespeare’s original.
Musically and thematically, Dream is an opera that lives in contrasts, and in the spark of friction generated as they collide. The orchestra for Dream is a sort of overgrown chamber ensemble, but full of unusual colours and textures that Britten deploys carefully to conjure the different musical worlds in the opera.
Why not to miss this production
This Peter Hall production is a true classic – first performed in 1981 to rave reviews, it has remained in the repertoire ever since. For many, this is the definitive production of the opera, and at the 1981 Festival premiere Peter Pears – partner of the late Britten – exclaimed ‘I just wish Ben had been here tonight…’
Audiences over the past four decades have loved the visual magic of the staging – the forest that comes to life, and the elaborate, Arthur Rackham-inspired Elizabethan costumes. This is the first chance to see the production since 2016 – come and be enchanted this summer.
A great moment to look out for
The orchestral opening to A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the most strikingly evocative and memorable passages of all 20th century opera, described by conductor and Britten biographer Paul Kildea as ‘a beautiful feathery sketch, surrounded by air and space’. Where Shakespeare’s play begins in the human world of the court, Britten plunges us straight into the fairy realm.
We are unmoored from reality right from the start, at once lulled and disturbed by unearthly cellos that drift up and down chromatically, sliding effortlessly from key to key. As we continue to listen they become the rustling and creaking of the magic wood, coming to life in our ears. This gives way to the ethereal voices of the fairies, traditionally performed at Glyndebourne by the Trinity Boys Choir, for the spine tingling opening number ‘Over Hill, Over Dale’.
You can enjoy some of the highlights from A Midsummer Night’s Dream in this preview of our CD release, which is currently available from our shop.
Cast and creative team
Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska makes her Glyndebourne debut, leading the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Counter tenor Tim Mead makes a welcome return to play Oberon, after his ‘spellbinding’ (The Observer) performance in our 2016 production. He’s joined in his magical court by soprano Liv Redpath, making her Glyndebourne debut as Tytania.
Donning the famous donkey head to play Bottom will be Brandon Cedel, ‘a brilliantly funny Figaro’ (The Arts Desk) at Festival 2022.