The Operas of Benjamin Britten: Expression and Evasion

By Claire Seymour | Go to book overview

11

A Midsummer Night's Dream

OBERON: I then did ask of her her changeling child, Which straight she gave me, and her fairy sent To bear him to my bower in fairyland. And now I have the boy, I will undo This hateful imperfection of her eyes.

Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream,
Act 3, Scene 3, lines 58—62 1

[Dreaming] gives a chance for your subconscious mind to work when your conscious mind is happily asleep . . . if I don't sleep, I find that . . . in the morning [I am] unprepared for my next day's work . . . [but dreams] release many things which one thinks had better not be released.

Britten, interview with Donald Mitchell 2

The composition of Noye's Fludde was to provide Britten with practical experience of recreating an historical English dramatic form, experience which was to prove invaluable when, in 1959, Britten began working with William Plomer on a new style of operatic genre modelled on Japanese Nō drama. The result was a trilogy of 'church parables' — Curlew River, The Burning Fiery Furnace and The Prodigal Son.

However, work on the first of these parables was interrupted by the need for Britten to compose a new work for the English Opera Group, which could be performed at the 1960 Aldeburgh Festival, to celebrate the opening of the recently refurbished Jubilee Hall. Britten explained the reasons for the deferment of Curlew River to Plomer:

I fear I must postpone this piece, still near to my heart, for a year. For many reasons . . . we are going this coming winter to rebuild the Jubilee Hall, make it a proper little Opera House, with dressing rooms, bigger stage, bigger orchestral pit, changing & increasing the seating, etc, etc, and we must have a new big opera to open it with next June. 'The River' being for a church, wouldn't do, also, it is scarcely festive. So I am going to do the Midsummer Night's Dream — which uses a bigger cast, orchestra, & has the essential advantage of having a libretto ready (it is an old idea of mine, & Peter & I have already done much

____________________
1
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Oxford: OUP, 1994). All subsequent references are to this edition and are given in parentheses in the text.
2
HC, p. 387.

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The Operas of Benjamin Britten: Expression and Evasion
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Operas of Benjamin Britten - Expression and Evasion *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Permissions *
  • Abbreviations x
  • 1 - Introduction *
  • 2 - Paul Bunyan *
  • 3 - Peter Grimes *
  • 4 - The Rape of Lucretia *
  • 5 - Albert Herring *
  • 6 - The Little Sweep *
  • 7 - Billy Budd *
  • 7 - Billy Budd *
  • 8 - Gloriana *
  • 9 - The Turn of the Screw *
  • 10 - Noye's Fludde *
  • 11 - A Midsummer Night's Dream *
  • 12 - The Church Parables *
  • 13 - Owen Wingrave *
  • 14 - Death in Venice *
  • 15 - Conclusion *
  • Bibliography *
  • Index *
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