Opera Profile: Britten’s Masterpiece Shakespeare Adaptation, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

By David Salazar

Premiering on June 11, 1960, at the Aldenburgh Festival, Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has become one of the most renowned Shakespeare adaptations in the opera canon.

The three-act work has been recorded time and again and stands as one of Britten’s most renowned works, alongside “Peter Grimes” and “Billy Budd.”

Short Plot Summary

Oberon, the King of Fairies, is quarreling with his lover Tytania over a young boy she is protecting. He sends off his servant puck to retrieve a magic flower that produces a magic juice that will make Tytania love him again.

Meanwhile, Lysander and Hermia have escaped the city hoping to avoid her forced marriage to Demetrius, who also chases after her. He is, in turn, pursued by Helena, who is hopelessly in love with him. Oberon overhears the arguments of the humans and order Puck to force Demetrius to fall for Helena with the magic juice.

Meanwhile, a theater group finds themselves in the woods as well preparing to put on a play of their own.

While Lysander and Hermia fall asleep, Puck believes he has found Demetrius and pours the juice over his eyes. Helena finds Lysander and awakens him. He is under the spell and declares his love for her. Helena runs off and Lysander follows. Hermia finds herself alone.

Meanwhile, Oberon sneaks up on Tytania and pours the juice over her eyes.

Puck turns Bottom, one of the men in the theater group, into an ass, scaring off the other men. Tytania awakens to see Bottom and falls for him. She coaxes him to bed, which delights Oberon. He does realize the mistake Puck made and pours the juice into Demetrius’ eyes, making him fall for Helena. Now Lysander and Demetrius love Helena, to the annoyance of Hermia. Oberon orders Puck to fix it all, which he ultimately does.

At dawn, Oberon releases Ty tania from the spell and everyone ultimately winds up happily ever after.

Watch and Listen

Here is Sir Colin Davis leading the famed Britten score.


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