A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op.64 [Opera in Three Acts; Libretto adapted from William Shakespeare by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears]

Oberon – William Towers
Tytania – Gillian Keith
Puck – Jami Reid-Quarrell
Theseus – Mark Beesley
Hippolyta – Liora Grodnikaite
Lysander – Robert Murray
Demetrius – Grant Doyle
Hermia – Tove Dahlberg
Helena – Katie Van Kooten
Bottom – Darren Jeffery
Quince – Jonathan Best
Flute – Andrew Kennedy
Snug – Jeremy White
Snout – Andrew Sritheran
Starveling – Andrew Mayor
Cobweb – James Walsh
Peaseblossom – Ben Davies
Mustardseed – Tom Nichols
Moth – Edmund Jillings

Tiffin Boys’ Choir

City of London Sinfonia
Richard Hickox

Director – Olivia Fuchs
Designs – Niki Turner
Lighting – Bruno Poet
Choreographer – Mandy Demetriou
Projection Design – John Driscoll

Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: 25 November, 2005
Venue: Linbury Studio Theatre at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Transport delays and difficulties unfortunately prevented my arriving in time for the start of the opera. I saw about half of the first act via a television monitor. The inevitable limitations – sonically and visually – did not prevent me from being impressed immediately by the strength of the cast and the splendid playing of the City of London Sinfonia.

These positive impressions were confirmed in the theatre itself for the rest of the opera. A largely youthful cast – some of whom are participants on the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme – was, overall, thoroughly convincing.

I took a little while to warm to the Oberon of William Towers, whose quick-ish vibrato is undeniably distinctive, but he was especially effective in the last act, able to command his Queen once again, and his leading of the final scene with the poignant ensemble “Now until the break of day” was quietly assertive.

As Tytania, Gillian Keith was absolutely superb. Her command of the high tessitura was remarkable, and though diminutive in stature, her bearing was, by turns, suitably authoritative and submissive. Her exchanges with the ass-head-bearing Bottom – where Britten penned some of his most ravishing soprano music – were touching and affecting in spite of the ridiculousness of the dramatic situation. Like the majority of the cast, her diction was exemplary, even in the high-lying reaches of the role.

As Puck, actor Jami Reid-Quarrell was acrobatic in every sense, conveying a degree of malevolence in his mischief-making, yet making ‘amends’ in the epilogue. His delivery of the spoken lines was also exemplary.

The other fairies – solo and choral – were cast from the ranks of the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. Their contribution was by no means overshadowed by that of the adults. All credit to Tiffin’s Director of Music, Simon Toyne.

As the lovers, all four were convincing, and were well-matched inensemble. Their quarrel, which threatens to turn nasty, had just the right ‘edge’ between comedy and something more serious. Katie Van Kooten’s striking soprano and Tove Dahlberg’s rich mezzo were aptly contrasted and their mocking of each other had appropriate venom; earlier, Van Kooten’s recollection of their childhood together proved moving, the voice beautifully balanced with the accompanying woodwind scales. Robert Murray’s strong tenor was evenly projected – his high register was powerful indeed – and Grant Doyle’s fine baritone made Demetrius amuch more positive personality than is sometimes the case.

As for the ‘rustics’ (Britten’s preferred term), whom the composerdepicts so affectionately, they were funny without being over-the-top or mere caricatures. Andrew Kennedy was an unusually vigorous Flute, and carried his ‘mad scene’ in the play-within-a-play episode to tremendous effect by avoiding grotesque exaggeration. In fact, this scene as a whole was all thebetter for being played as ‘straight’ as possible. Britten’s operaticparodies are all the more piquant without ‘produced’ excesses. Darren Jeffery projected a personable Bottom and, by scrupulousattention to the vocal line, projected an engaging character, positively revelling in the unexpected amorous advances of the Queen of the Fairies.

Mark Beesley – initially slightly flat – was a commanding Theseus,whilst Liora Grodnikaite made much of the small part of Hippolyta,investing the lines with a not unsuitable regality.

The production made no attempt to suggest the mysterious forest where the mad antics of mortals and fairies take place. The predominant colour was blue, both from neon-lighting and the colour of the stage. Bright, garish pinks and reds were featured in the costumes for the humans; the fairies were dressed in white.

There was no suggestion of changes of location – in fact it was quite a bare playing-area. It was difficult to say when – time-wise – the action was being set. Flute sporting a Che Guevara T-shirt, the design of the clothes and Snout’s carrying of a ‘period’ transistor radio suggested the 1950s.

In any event, directorial oddities and visual peculiarities andanachronisms (it made little sense for Theseus, in a business suit,commenting that he had “woo’d you (Hipployta) with my sword”) did not detract from the magic of this score and Britten’s drawing of the characters.

Richard Hickox conducted with a sense of engagement which I have not always encountered in his work – ensemble and balance were unimpeachable – and so this production can be commended for the musical aspect alone. A reason sufficient in itself for a visit to the Linbury for what is, possibly, an odd choice of opera for this time of year.

  • Performance at 3 o’clock on 27 November; and at 7 o’clock on 28 & 30 November and 2 & 3 December
  • Box office: 020 7304 4000
  • Royal Opera

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