My Year of Opera 13: Midsummer Night’s Dream

So Britten joins Whedon and Sondheim as “the composers I’ve watched more than once.”

While my in-laws were in town a few weeks ago they gave me a DVD of Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is the very colorful production by Orquestra Simfonica del Gran Teatro del Liceu and I had borrowed my father-in-law’s copy a few months ago. I really love the production, the colors, the bed motif that makes up the stage visuals, and I have no faults with the performances at all. Hearing a countertenor as Oberon is a ton of fun, it makes me want to write for that voice type (but it isn’t like there are a bunch lying around here for me to compose for).

Adapting Shakespeare is never easy but I feel like Britten gets this about as right as you can get. Musically the fairy realm is extremely well defined in opposition to the human realm and his orchestrations are so colorful I wonder why Britten isn’t talked about more in that regard. If one could fault the opera it is that almost all of the singing is about the plot as opposed to lots of beefy arias which could be lifted out and performed separately.

I’ve been listening to a lot of bel canto stuff in recent weeks, too, and I’m seeing the benefits/limitations of that style in comparison to the more through-composed operas post-Verdi/Wagner. Thinking of how I’ve approached music dramas in the past, I’ve tended to compose a more continuous work instead of writing “numbers.” How necessary are “numbers” these days? Since I may never have a full opera performed ever in my life (or even after) wouldn’t it be smart of me to write something which could be separated into scenes or individual musical fragments which could exist outside the context of the whole? Or is that too outdated of a concept?

Actually, I know the answer to this question. Longer works, be they operas or song cycles or even longer orchestral pieces, are only going to get any kind of play through shorter excerpts. There are plenty of calls for works which are “under x duration” but rarely do I see something asking for a work longer than, say, 12 minutes. If I want to write something which is 30 minutes or longer, I feel like I have to compose at least one 5-6 minute chunk which can be excerpted. That isn’t necessary a complaint, mind you. The hard part would then be to make sure the excerpt really blended dramatically into the whole.

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