Metropolitan Opera Broadcast: A Midsummer Night's Dream
Radio Broadcast of Saturday, December 21, 1 P.M.
Bottom and Tytania (Matthew Rose, Kathleen Kim)
© Johan Elbers 2013
The 2013–14 Metropolitan Opera broadcast season is sponsored by
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the Vincent A. Stabile Endowment for Broadcast Media,
and through contributions from listeners worldwide.
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Music by Benjamin Britten
Libretto by the composer and Peter Pears, after the play by William Shakespeare
Archive performance from fall 2013
THE CAST (in order of vocal appearance)
Cobweb treble, SETH EWING-CRYSTAL
Mustardseed treble, BENJAMIN P.
Peaseblossom treble, KIKI PORTER
Moth treble, THATCHER PITKOFF
Puck actor, RILEY COSTELLO
Tytania soprano, KATHLEEN KIM
Oberon countertenor, IESTYN DAVIES
Lysander tenor, JOSEPH KAISER
Hermia mezzo, ELIZABETH DeSHONG
Demetrius baritone, MICHAEL TODD
Helena soprano, ERIN WALL
Quince bass-baritone, PATRICK CARFIZZI
Snug bass, PAUL CORONA
Starveling bass-baritone, EVAN HUGHES
Flute tenor, BARRY BANKS
Snout tenor, SCOTT SCULLY
Bottom bass, MATTHEW ROSE
Theseus bass-baritone, RYAN McKINNY
Hippolyta mezzo, TAMARA MUMFORD
Conducted by JAMES CONLON
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus
The Metropolitan Opera Children's Chorus
Production: Tim Albery
Set and costume designer: Antony McDonald
Lighting designer: Matthew Richardson
Choreographer: Philippe Giraudeau
Musical preparation: Dennis Giauque,
Gareth Morrell, Dan Saunders
Assistant stage directors: Peter McClintock,
J. Knighten Smit
Stage band conductor: Jeffrey Goldberg
Children's chorus director: Anthony Piccolo
English coach: Felicity Palmer
|Production a gift of the
Edgar Foster Daniels Foundation
Revival a gift of Rolex
|THE SCENES|| ||Timings (ET)|
|ACT I||The woods outside Athens || 1:00–1:47|
|ACT II||The woods, later that|
|ACT III|| ||3:35–4:24 |
|Sc. 1||The woods, shortly before|
|Sc. 2||Theseus's palace in Athens|| |
Host: Margaret Juntwait
Commentator: Ira Siff
Music producer: Jay David Saks
Producers: Mary Jo Heath, Ellen Keel,
Executive producers: Mia Bongiovanni,
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ACT I. At twilight, Fairies cavort in a wood near mythological Athens. Puck, an earth spirit, enters, followed by his master, Oberon, king of the fairies, and Tytania, his queen, quarreling over a changeling boy; their dispute has caused the seasons to go awry. When Tytania sweeps out, Oberon orders Puck to fetch a flower whose nectar, placed on a person's eyelids, causes instant infatuation with the first creature the person sees. Oberon intends to apply the nectar to Tytania's eyelids to confuse and embarrass her, so he can get the boy for his own retinue. As Puck leaves, Oberon withdraws. Two lovers, Lysander and Hermia, meet by chance in the wood. When Hermia says she is bound by her father's wish (under Athenian law) to marry a certain Demetrius, Lysander proposes to elope with her. No sooner have they left than Demetrius comes in, pursued by Helena, who loves him; he tells her to stop bothering him. As they part, Oberon returns, declaring that he will reverse these lovers' fixations. When Puck brings the flower, Oberon prepares to place its drops on the sleeping Tytania's eyelids and tells Puck to do the same to Demetrius, making sure the Athenian wakes to the sight of Helena. Both depart on their missions. Into the wood come six rustic artisans to prepare a play about Pyramus and Thisbe, as an entertainment to celebrate the marriage of Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Their leader, the carpenter Peter Quince, has some trouble assigning roles. At length they agree on casting and leave, planning to rehearse later that evening. Lysander and Hermia reappear and lie down to sleep, but Puck, seeking the Athenian youth described by Oberon, mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and places the drops on his eyelids. No sooner has Puck left than Demetrius runs past, still trying to shake the attentions of Helena, who succumbs to fatigue and lies down. Seeing Lysander nearby, she wakes him and is dismayed when he declares his love for her. She departs, with Lysander in ardent pursuit, whereupon Hermia stirs alone from a nightmare. Distraught to find her lover gone, she starts off in search of him. Tytania returns with her entourage, who leave her alone to sleep. Oberon steals in and places the magic drops on her eyelids.
From the edge of the enchanted forest, Puck watches the sleeping lovers (Riley Costello as Puck)
© Beth Bergman 2013
ACT II. While Tytania sleeps, the rustics return. They are spied by Puck as they start to rehearse. Puck amuses himself by transforming Bottom's head into that of a donkey. When his companions run away in terror, he launches into a song to show he is not afraid. This wakes Tytania, who is smitten with him and summons her Fairies to wait on him. Flattered, he revels in the attention, at last falling asleep in Tytania's arms as darkness descends. Oberon and Puck look on, pleased at the success of their prank, but when Hermia appears, followed by Demetrius vehemently denying her accusation that he has killed Lysander, Oberon and Puck realize the drops were administered to the wrong youth. As Hermia storms out, Demetrius collapses in sleep, whereupon Oberon places drops on his eyelids. Oberon and Puck then stand aside to witness the infatuation of Lysander for Helena, who is still trying to escape him. Demetrius, waking, suddenly is smitten with her. Helena, feeling herself the victim of a conspiracy, turns on the newly arrived Hermia and accuses her of orchestrating it. There follows a wild exchange, with all four lovers misunderstanding one another. As they disperse, Oberon blames Puck for the disorder and commands him to remedy it by applying the drops to Lysander's eyelids once more. Oberon vanishes, and Puck — encountering Lysander, who is stalking Demetrius in hopes of provoking a fight — pretends to be Demetrius, playing hide and seek with Lysander until the exhausted youth falls asleep. At last finding Demetrius, Puck plays a similar trick on him. Soon Helena and Hermia return, exhausted. When they too fall asleep, Fairies surround the lovers. Puck waits until the Fairies leave to apply the drops to Lysander's eyelids, then disappears.
Flute, Snug and Bottom enact the story of "Pyramus and Thisby" (Barry Banks as Flute, Paul Corona as Snug, Matthew Rose as Bottom)
© Beatriz Schiller 2013
ACT III. As Tytania, Bottom and the lovers sleep on a flowery bank, Oberon and Puck return. Having won the disputed boy, Oberon releases Tytania from the spell. The reconciled pair dance, then set out for Theseus's palace. Sounding horns wake the lovers, who, reunited with their rightful partners, are convinced that the night's events were just a bizarre dream. After they leave for Athens, Bottom stirs and wanders off before his colleagues arrive, searching for him. When he returns, they prepare to take their play to the duke.
At the palace, Theseus is preparing to wed Hippolyta. The lovers appear before him, explaining as best they can the adventures of the night before. Theseus overrides Hermia's father and unites her with Lysander and Helena with Demetrius. Now the rustics offer their play. After Quince pronounces the prologue, Snout the tinker says he will represent the Wall through which Pyramus (Bottom) and Thisbe (Flute the bellows-mender) exchange their doomed vows, accompanied by comments from the audience. Snug the joiner plays a Lion; Starveling the tailor, carrying a lantern, represents the Moon. The play comes to its ill-fated conclusion, and when the guests leave, they are accompanied by the Fairies, Puck, Oberon and Tytania, to hold sway for the rest of the night. As they dance off, Puck is left alone to deliver a brief epilogue.
The quartet of lovers in Tim Albery's Met production of A
Midsummer Night's Dream, from top: Helena (Erin Wall),
Demetrius (Michael Todd Simpson), Hermia (Elizabeth
DeShong) and Lysander (Norman Reinhardt)
© Beth Bergman 2013
Britten's reputation as an opera composer was established with the success of Peter Grimes at Sadler's Wells Opera in London in June 1945. Grimes, which in 1948 became the first Britten work performed at the Met, was written for tenor Peter Pears (1910–86), Britten's life partner and his co-author for the Dream libretto. Pears created the principal tenor roles in most of Britten's stage works; a prominent exception was the world-premiere performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, in which Pears sang the comic role of Flute the bellows-mender, which offered him the opportunity to do a show-stealing parody of Joan Sutherland's Lucia mad scene.
A Midsummer Night's Dream was Britten's tenth opera. It had its first performance on June 11, 1960, at the Aldeburgh Festival, with the composer pacing a cast headed by soprano Jennifer Vyvyan (Tytania) and countertenor Alfred Deller (Oberon). Choreographer John Cranko directed. The following year, A Midsummer Night's Dream arrived at Covent Garden in a production conducted by Georg Solti and directed by John Gielgud, with countertenor Russell Oberlin and soprano Joan Carlyle as the Fairy King and Queen.
The Metropolitan Opera premiere of A Midsummer Night's Dream was on November 25, 1996, in the current production, directed by Tim Albery and designed by Antony McDonald and Matthew Richardson. David Atherton conducted.
WHAT TO READ AND HEAR
Although several biographies of Britten are currently available — two were published during the composer's centennial year of 2013 — not one could safely be termed "standard." Humphrey Carpenter's 1993 study remains highly readable; Neil Powell's Benjamin Britten: A Life for Music (Henry Holt) was reviewed in OPERA NEWS in October 2013. The best introductions to Britten remain Peter Evans's The Music of Benjamin Britten (Clarendon paperback), The Cambridge Companion to Benjamin Britten by Mervyn Cooke (Cambridge ) and Eric Walter White's Benjamin Britten: His Life and Operas (University of California).
On CD, the 1966 Decca recording led by the composer remains hors concours. Also highly individual — and highly admirable — are the 1995 performance led by Colin Davis (Decca) and the 1990 version conducted by Richard Hickox (Virgin Classics). On DVD, the choice is a 2005 capture of Robert Carsen's staging at the Liceu in Barcelona (Virgin) although Peter Hall's more conventional 1981 production from Glyndebourne (Kultur) remains appealing. DVD issues of films of the Shakespeare play abound. Peter Hall's 1968 film with the Royal Shakespeare Company is the most potently cast, fielding Judi Dench and Ian Richardson as Titania and Oberon, Ian Holm as Puck and Diana Rigg and Helen Mirren as Helena and Hermia (Water Bearer Films). The 1935 Max Reinhardt–William Dieterle film is cast with contract players from Warner Brothers — James Cagney (Bottom), Dick Powell (Lysander) and Olivia de Havilland (Hermia) among them — and retains its soft-edged period charm.
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