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Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1960) - opera in three acts
Libretto adapted from William Shakespeare by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears
Tatyana…Ileana Cotrubas
Oberon…James Bowman
Bottom…Curt Appelgren
Puck…Damien Nash
Hermia…Cynthia Buchan
Lysander…Ryland Davies
Demetrius…Dale Duesing
Helena…Felicity Lott
Quince…Robert Bryson
Snug…Andrew Gallagher
Starveling…Donald Bell
Flute…Patrick Power
Snout…Adrian Thompson
Theseus…Lieuwe Visser
Hippolyta…Claire Powell
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
Directed by Peter Hall
Recorded at Glyndebourne, England, in 1981
WARNER/NVC ARTS 0630-16911-2 [156:00]


Peter Hall’s production of Britten’s opera after Shakespeare is visually quite stunning. Using the extremely limited stage area that was the original Glyndebourne, designer, John Bury, created a magical atmosphere: beautiful sets, sylvan-lit, with enchanted trees and glades, and lavish costumes, bizarre make-up and weirdly imposing coiffeurs. The final act in the Duke’s court is well staged too with the rustics’ play hilariously presented. The final entrance of the fairies, to bless all the lovers is enchanting as also is Puck’s leave-taking.

It has to be said that, for this reviewer, memories of Britten’s own wonderful 1966 audio recording (Decca London 425 663-2LH2) linger indelibly in the memory. Alfred Deller was so memorable as Oberon (his wondrous unearthly tones in ‘I know a bank’ for instance) and Elizabeth Harwood was a more unworldly Titanya (as Britten suggested) than Ileana Cotrubas. Yet Cotrubas’s coloratura technique, particularly in the scene with Bottom under enchantment, leaves nothing to be desired. As Oberon, James Bowman deservedly wins the warmest applause at the end, while the principal scene stealer is young Damien Nash as Puck swinging through the trees and causing mischief between the young lovers.

This production dates back to 1981 and the cast list includes Dame Felicity Lott showing early promise not only as a most expressive singer but also as a spirited actress. Cynthia Buchan also shines as Hermia and the two young ladies are very animated in their Act II cat fight when the two couples’ affections become hopelessly confused. Curt Appelgren is a winsome, buffoonish Bottom but cannot equal Owen Brannigan’s flamboyant portrayal in Britten’s set. The rustics under the leadership of a long-suffering Quince (Robert Bryson) all raise a smile.

A performance that enchants.

Ian Lace

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