Britten Meets the Bard

One of Shakespeare's most popular plays is given a musical overhaul.

Composer: Britten
Repertoire: A Midsummer Night’s Dream 

Artist: Soloists, Glyndebourne Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Ilan Volkov
Rating: 4/5

Genre: Opera

Label: Glyndebourne GFOCD013 06

The Music: Benjamin Britten had adored Shakespeare’s ‘dream play’ since he was a child, and his love for the verse shines through his 1960 setting. From the opening shimmering string sonorities depicting a world of sleep, to the final witty parody of bel canto opera for the mechanicals, the score is a masterpiece of invention and beauty. 

The Performance: Recorded live at a 2006 revival at Glyndebourne (in Peter Hall’s masterly production), the performance boasts some fine singing. Bejun Mehta is a silky yet seductively threatening Oberon, Íride Martínez (Tytania) floats her high notes ravishingly, and Matthew Rose is an amusing Bottom. The quartet of lovers includes a splendid Kate Royal (Helena), 11-year-old Jack Morlen is a terrifically elfin-sounding Puck, and Ilan Volkov conducts with a fine sense of the score’s strange charm. 

The Verdict: All the plus points are slightly less than the sum of their parts here. The liveness of the recording – the coughs, the atmospheric noise, the clumping boots on stage – can’t help but detract from the magic a bit. 

Want More? For another chance to hear Britten in comic mode, try his Albert Herring (Chandos, Chan 10036).