Britten - A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Testament SBT21515

Britten - A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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Label: Testament

Cat No: SBT21515

Format: CD

Number of Discs: 2

Genre: Opera

Release Date: 9th September 2016

Contents

Artists

Alfred Deller
Jennifer Vyvyan
Leonide Massine II
Kevin Platts
Robert McCutcheon
Barry Ferguson
Michael Bauer
George Maran
Thomas Hemsley
Marjorie Thomas
April Cantelo
Forbes Robinson
Johanna Peters
Owen Brannigan
Norman Lumsden
Peter Pears
David Kelly
Edward Byles
Joseph Ward
English Opera Group Orchestra

Conductor

Benjamin Britten

Works

Britten, Benjamin

A Midsummer Night's Dream, op.64

Artists

Alfred Deller
Jennifer Vyvyan
Leonide Massine II
Kevin Platts
Robert McCutcheon
Barry Ferguson
Michael Bauer
George Maran
Thomas Hemsley
Marjorie Thomas
April Cantelo
Forbes Robinson
Johanna Peters
Owen Brannigan
Norman Lumsden
Peter Pears
David Kelly
Edward Byles
Joseph Ward
English Opera Group Orchestra

Conductor

Benjamin Britten

About

At first glance, Britten’s discography of his own operas leaves little to be desired. His recorded legacy covers practically his entire output in recordings under his own direction, with his favourite artists, produced to still-legendary standards. And yet, as magnificent as the official recordings are, many do not feature the singers who created important roles; and sometimes even when the interpretations do come from the source the published versions are from a few crucial years downstream. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is no exception. It was composed at breakneck speed for the reopening in 1960 of Aldeburgh’s Jubilee Hall, a tiny theatre by operatic standards, seating just over 300. It would soon move to the rather more capacious Covent Garden (and for that matter within the following year to Hamburg, Zurich, Berlin, Pforzheim, Milan, Vancouver, Gothenburg, Edinburgh, Schwetzingen and Tokyo) – finally reaching a commercial recording in 1966 under very different circumstances from those in which it was created.

Perhaps the greatest single asset of the 1960 recording, though, is the chance to hear Alfred Deller’s very earliest performance as Oberon. Deller’s inclusion in the cast was one of Britten’s most original inspirations: nowadays counter-tenor roles are an essential part of the operatic palette in old and new music alike and gifted singers to sing them are plentiful, but just a few decades ago a counter-tenor was an exotic beast indeed. Sir Michael Tippett wrote of first hearing Deller’s voice: ‘In that moment the centuries rolled back’. For us, half a century and more already rolls back when we hear Deller in
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Deller’s voice is ironically now a historical phenomenon in itself.

Britten’s own interpretation of the opera would broaden over the years. Here the ink on the score is barely dry and some passages are unforgettably urgent: Oberon and Tytania’s opening duet has a compelling sweep, and the Act II quarrel of the lovers has an extra tinge of danger. The glorious choruses which end the second and third acts would certainly be given more time in later performances, but not always either to their benefit or to the advantage of the whole: ‘On the ground, sleep sound’ is all the more poignant if it, as here, never becomes static, and Puck’s epilogue can sound a little tacked-on if ‘Now until the break of day’ is allowed to wallow. Fortunately, there is no need to choose. We are all the richer for having two such distinct approaches to the opera in its early history at our disposal and since they both come direct from the composer himself, perhaps the not always helpful concept of a ‘definitive recording’ can usefully be called into question.

Excerpts from the booklet note © Carl Rosman, 2016

World premiere: Recorded in the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh, 11 June 1960

Cast:
- Oberon, King of the Fairies: Alfred Deller
- Tytania, Queen of the Fairies: Jennifer Vyvyan
- Puck: Leonide Massine II
- Cobweb: Kevin Platts
- Mustardseed: Robert McCutcheon
- Moth: Barry Ferguson
- Peaseblossom: Michael Bauer
- Lysander: George Maran
- Demetrius: Thomas Hemsley
- Hermia, in love with Lysander: Marjorie Thomas
- Helena, in love with Demetrius: April Cantelo
- Theseus, Duke of Athens: Forbes Robinson
- Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons: Johanna Peters
- Bottom, a weaver: Owen Brannigan
- Quince, a carpenter: Norman Lumsden
- Flute, a bellows-mender: Peter Pears
- Snug, a joiner: David Kelly
- Snout, a tinker: Edward Byles
- Starveling, a tailor: Joseph Ward

Reviews

Only 300 people could fit into Aldeburgh’s tiny Jubilee Hall for the premiere of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1960. Thanks to the BBC’s live radio broadcast and Testament’s excellent remastering of it, we can now join them. Decca’s commercial recording has been the standard for the opera since it was released in 1966, and most listeners will prefer it for its fine studio sound and the absence of audience noise, but the opportunity to listen in to the premiere is an experience no Britten lover will want to miss.  Richard Fairman
Gramophone November 2016
Gramophone Editor's Choice

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