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Music Text

Libretto adapted from Shakespeare by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears (E,Cz,F,G,H,I,P,Sc,Sw)


colS,S,M,A,CT/A,3T,2Bar,BBar,3B,acrobat speaking role;
children's roles: 4Tr,chorus
strings (min band:sopranino recorders/cyms/2wdbl

Abbreviations (PDF)


Boosey & Hawkes

This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.

Digital Score
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World Premiere
Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh
John Cranko, director
Conductor: Benjamin Britten
Company: Snape Maltings


OBERON, King of the Fairies Countertenor
TYTANIA, Queen of the Fairies Coloratura Soprano
PUCK Acrobat/speaking role
THESEUS, Duke of Athens Bass
HIPPOLYTA, Queen of the Amazons, betrothed to Theseus Contralto
LYSANDER, in love with Hermia Tenor
DEMETRIUS, in love with Hermia Baritone
HERMIA, in love with Lysander Mezzo Soprano
HELENA, in love with Demetrius Soprano
BOTTOM, a weaver Bass Baritone
QUINCE, a carpenter Bass
SNUG, a joiner Tenor
SNOUT, a tinker Tenor
STARVELING, a tailor Baritone
CHORUS OF FAIRIES Trebles or Sopranos
Time and Place

A wood near Athens


As twilight falls, fairies attendant upon their queen Tytania enter, followed by Puck, spirit attendant on the fairy-king, Oberon. Soon the royal pair arrives, separately, having fallen out. They argue, then Tytania and her fairies leave. Oberon sends Puck to find for him a certain herb that causes those upon whose sleeping eyelids the juice is dropped to fall in love with the next live creature that he or she sees. Next enter lovers Lysander and Hermia, forbidden by Athenian law to marry (she must wed Demetrius) and so fleeing the city together. They leave as Oberon enters to observe a second Athenian couple, Demetrius (in love with Hermia) pursued by Helena (in love with Demetrius). As they move off Puck returns with the herb, and Oberon instructs him to seek out an Athenian (meaning Demetrius) and anoint his eyes so as to make him fall in love with Helena. Next, a group of Athenian workmen enters, intent on casting a play they hope to perform before Duke Theseus. Most prominent among them is Bottom, cast as Pyramus in Pyramus and Thisbe. They agree to return later to rehearse. Now the mix-ups begin: Puck anoints Lysander's eyes, causing him to transfer his allegiance to Helena, while Oberon anoints Tytania's, causing her to fall in love with Bottom, whom Puck has mischievously given an ass's head. The four Athenians are hurled into violent discord, till Puck sends them to sleep and they wake up cured. Bottom too is eventually restored, Oberon and Tytania make their peace, and following the successful performance of Pyramus and Thisbe before his guests (whom we met earlier in the wood), they bless Theseus and his wife Hippolyta, and their house.

Repertoire Note

In August 1959, Britten decided to compose a full-evening opera for the reopening of the refurbished Jubilee Hall in Aldeburgh in June 1960. As this left no time for a libretto to be prepared anew, he chose to adapt with Peter Pears Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, though as he admitted at the time, he had always admired the original play and was excited by the various levels of action between the different groups of characters. As with The Turn of the Screw, these groups are characterised by strongly differentiated colours: the bright, percussive sounds of harps, keyboards and percussion for the fairy world, warm strings and wind for the the pairs of lovers, and lower woodwind and brass for the mechanicals. The opera is completely faithful to the spirit of the original and must be counted as one of the most successful operatic adaptations of a Shakespeare play. It is possibly the most beguiling and enchanting of all Britten's operas, a work with a spellbinding atmosphere that inhabits a truly unique dreamlike world.

Reproduced by kind permission of the Britten-Pears Library


Comic, Poetic, Romantic

Recommended Recording

Brian Asawa/Sylvia McNair/John Mark Ainsley/Paul Whelan/Janice Watson/Robert Lloyd/Gwynne Howell/Ian Bostridge/London Symphony Orchestra/New London Children's Choir/Colin Davis
Philips 4541222
Click here to purchase this CD set from Amazon

Alfred Deller/Elizabeth Harwood/Peter Pears/Thomas Hemsley/Josephine Veasey/Heather Harper/John  Shirley-Quirk/Helen Watts/Owen Brannigan/Robert Tear/London Symphony Orchestra/Benjamin Britten
Decca 4256632
Click here to purchase this CD set from Amazon


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