DECCA 3-LPs SET 338-40: BRITTEN - A Midsummer Night's Dream 1976
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Background on this item -
What a lovely 3 LP boxed set! This is the great performance of Benjamin Britten's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" that all music lovers and audiophiles turn to. The records are UK made, with the original inner sleeves and an extensive libretto.

This is an original DECCA (U.K.) 3-LP set, dating from 1976 (the original recording was made and issued in 1966). A true reference performance on this stereo recording.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is an opera with music by Benjamin Britten and set to a libretto adapted by the composer and Peter Pears from William Shakespeare's play, A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was premiered on 11 June 1960 at the Aldeburgh Festival, conducted by the composer and with set and costume designs by Carl Toms.

Stylistically, the work is typical of Britten, with a highly individual sound-world - not strikingly dissonant or atonal, but replete with subtly atmospheric harmonies and tone painting. Atypically for Britten, the opera did not include a leading role for his partner Pears - it is the only one of his stage works that did not, other than the early operetta Paul Bunyan. Instead, Pears had the comic drag role of Flute/Thisbe.

In 2005, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden produced a version of this at the Linbury Theatre with the Tiffin Boys' Choir and numerous well-known singers.

Analysis -
Britten skillfully delineated the three tiers of characters, the rustics being given folk-like "simple" music, the lovers a more romantic sound-world and the fairies being represented in a very ethereal way. Almost all of the action now takes place in the woods around Athens, and the fairies inhabit a much more prominent place in the drama. The comic performance by the rustics of Pyramus and Thisbe at the final wedding takes on an added dimension as a parody of nineteenth century Italian opera. Thisbe's lament, accompanied by obbligato flute, is a parody of a Donizetti "mad scene".

The opera contains several innovations: it is extremely rare in opera that the lead male role is written for the countertenor voice to sing. The part of Oberon was created by Alfred Deller. Britten wrote specifically for his voice, which was weak in the high notes; the result being that Oberon's music almost never requires the countertenor to sing both at the top of the alto range and forte.

The plot of the opera follows that of the play, with several alterations. Most of Shakespeare's Act 1 is cut, compensated for by the opera's only added line: "Compelling thee to marry with Demetrius." Therefore much greater precedence is given to the wood, and to the fairies. This is also indicated by the opening portamenti strings, and by the ethereal countertenor voice that is Oberon, the male lead, who throughout is accompanied by a characteristic texture of harp and celeste, in the same way that Puck's appearance is heralded by the combination of trumpet and snare-drum.

The opera opens with a chorus, "Over hill, over dale" from Tytania's attendant fairies, played by boy sopranos. Other highlights include Oberon's florid – the exotic celeste is especially notable – aria,"I know a bank" (inspired by Purcell's "Sweeter than roses", which Britten had previously arranged for Pears to sing), Tytania's equally florid "Come now, a roundel", the chorus's energetic "You spotted snakes", the hilarious comedy of "Pyramus and Thisbe", and the final trio for Oberon, Tytania and the chorus.

The original play is an anomaly among Shakespeare's works, in that it is very little concerned with character, and very largely concerned with psychology. Britten follows this to a large extent, but subtly alters the psychological focus of the work. The introduction of a chorus of boy-fairies means that the opera becomes greatly concerned with the theme of purity. It is these juvenile fairies who eventually quell the libidinous activities of the quartet of lovers, as they sing a beautiful melody on the three "motto chords" (also on the four "magic" chords) of the second act: "Jack shall have Jill/Naught shall go ill/The man shall have his mare again/And all shall be well." Sung by boys, it could be considered that this goes beyond irony, and represents an idealized vision of a paradise of innocence and purity that Britten seems to have been captivated by throughout his life.

Britten could not, of course, have written the opera without paying attention to the play's central motif: the madness of love. Curiously, however, he took the one relationship in the play that is utterly grotesque (that of Tytania and Bottom) and placed it literally in the centre of his opera (in the middle of Act 2). Women in Britten operas tend to run to extremes, being either predators or vulnerable prey, but Tytania is an amalgam; she dominates Bottom, but is herself completely dominated by Oberon and Puck, the couple that are usually considered to really hold power in The Dream. Their cruel pranks eventually quell her coloratura, which until she is freed from the power of the love-juice is fiendishly difficult to sing.

Britten also parodied operatic convention in less obvious ways than "Pyramus and Thisbe". Like many other operas, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" opens with a chorus, but it is a chorus of unbroken boys' voices, singing in unison. After this comes the entrance of the prima donna and the male lead, who is as far away as possible from Wagner's heldentenors, and as close as it is possible to get to Handel's castrati of the 18th century. Britten's treatment of Puck also suggests parody. In opera, the hero's assistant is traditionally sung by baritones, yet here we have an adolescent youth who speaks, rather than sings.

The opera originally received an extremely mixed critical assessment. Britten's estranged collaborator W.H. Auden dismissed it as "dreadful – pure Kensington," while many others praised it highly. It is fairly regularly performed, though one difficulty in performing the opera is the large forces required.

DECCA Records 3-LP set - PURPLE record labels with SILVER lettering - see pictures for more detail
Record Made in the UK (Great Britain / England)
Pressing is in STEREO
Record Speed: 33 1/3 rpm
Record Made in: 1976 (libretto indicates it was written in 1960, the LPs have a date of 1966 and the record sleeves indicate January 1976, so we are assuming this set to be of 1976 vintage).
Record Catalog Number: SET 338-40

Each record comes in the original inner sleeves
Set comes with a multi-page and informative LIBRETTO
LPs are housed in an outer box - which is very heavy and solid
"Made in England" at the 11 o'clock position on each of the 3 LPs
Stampers: Side 1 - ZAL-7684-10G, "2B" at 3 o'clock, "H" at 9 o'clock
Stampers: Side 2 - ZAL-7685-8G, "2D" at 3 o'clock, "H" at 9 o'clock
Stampers: Side 3 - ZAL-7686-9G, "7E" at 3 o'clock, "NOTHING" at 9 o'clock
Stampers: Side 4 - ZAL-7687-5G, "2B" at 3 o'clock, "H" at 9 o'clock
Stampers: Side 5 - ZAL-7688-8G, "2B" at 3 o'clock, "H" at 9 o'clock
Stampers: Side 6 - ZAL-7689-65G, "2B" at 3 o'clock, "I" at 9 o'clock

This listing is for a very rare, out of print 3-LP set featuring the music of -

Benjamin BRITTEN

LP Title -

Performers on this title include -
Alfred Deller
Elizabeth Harwood
Peter Pears
Thomas Hemsley
Josephine Veasey
Heather Harper
Stephen Terry
John Shirley-Quirk
Helen Watts
Owen Brannigan
Norman Lumsden
Kenneth Macdonald
David Kelly
Robert Tear
Keith Raggett
Benjamin Britten conducting the London Symphony Orchestra

Track listings -
1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream - complete opera

The records are housed in a large box. Each LP is in it's own original inner sleeve. The colors on the front of the box are very clean and lovely. The box has no real issues - it is solid and in fantastic condition given it's age. On the whole, the corners are all intact, with some slight weakening over time. The box virtually has no issues other than a bit of shelf wear - these types of issues are frequently seen in records issued of this age are are due, quite simply, to the weight of the set and the age! It is very hard to expect a set of this vintage to be in near mint condition, especially since the weight of the item was so significant.

The set comes complete with a lovely multi-page, full size, libretto in near mint condition!

The LP (vinyl) itself:
The LPs we visually inspected are in Near Mint Minus condition! Yes, the great thing about large multi LP sets, from a collectors perspective, is that they are rarely played. Thus, most of the time, they are in LOVELY condition! This set is no exception. The vinyl have no serious marks of any kind, only some light superficial spider marks - these are caused by sliding the LPs in and out of the inner record sleeves. The records have no significant spindle marks either. The records retain much of their original gloss and sheen. These are lovely slabs of super rare vinyl - in remarkable condition given their age. When play graded (some parts) on our audio system, the records performed very well, with only some rare, light noise that did not detract from the performance in any way.

Please understand that this is a vintage LP set - as such, one cannot expect the vinyl to sound like a brand new, audiophile pressing! Some noise is inevitable - for best results, always properly clean your LPs before playing them (even brand new LPs).

The LP is an audiophile quality pressing (any collector of fine MFSL, half speeds, direct to discs, Japanese/UK pressings etc., can attest to the difference a quality pressing can make to an audio system).

A Short Note About LP GRADING -
Mint {M} = Only used for sealed items.
Near Mint {NM} = Virtually flawless in every way.
Near Mint Minus {NM-} = Item has some minor imperfections, some audible.
Excellent {EXC} = Item obviously played and enjoyed with some noise.
Very Good Plus {VG+} = Many more imperfections which are noticeable and obtrusive.

Don't let this rarity slip by!!!

  • Item #: Decca 3-LPs SET 338-40 NM
  • Manufacturer: Decca Records
  • Condition: Used

DECCA 3-LPs SET 338-40: BRITTEN - A Midsummer Night's Dream 1976

Price: $99.99
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