A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Opera in three acts to a libretto adapted from William Shakespeare by the composer and Peter Pears
Oberon – Philip Jones
Tytania – Suzanne Shakespeare
Puck – Luke Williams
Lysander – Tyler Clarke
Hermia – Anais Heghoyen
Demetrius – Peter Braithwaite
Helena – Monica Bancos
Bottom – Jimmy Holliday
Quince – Ross McInroy
Flute – Alistair Digges
Snug – David Milner Pearce
Snout – Alex Vearey Roberts
Starveling – Alex Duliba
Hippolyta – Rosie Aldridge
Theseus – David Hansford
Peaseblossom – Ben Richardson
Cobweb – Crispin Lord
Moth – Christopher O’Brien
Mustardseed – Joe Brandon
Indian boy – James Dugan
Fairies – Boys of Trinity Boys Choir
Royal College of Music Opera Orchestra
Ian Judge – Director
Mark Doubleday – Lighting design
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: 29 June, 2009
Venue: Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London
If the Britten Theatre was hot and stuffy on this first night of the Royal College of Music’s International Opera School run of four performances of Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” then perhaps that suits the story, for none of the characters entering the enchanted woods (not much foliage in this setting) of Ian Judge’s production have a particularly fine or undisturbed sleep there! There is much to enjoy in this production with its rather dark overall feel. This darkness accords well with the distinctive coloration of Britten’s score. Michael Rosewell led a flowing account of the music, which can sag if treated over-indulgently. Only occasionally did the pace feel a little driven. The orchestra was nicely responsive and all sections seemed to relish their opportunities.
On the black disc-shaped stage the shifts of scene from the world of fairies, the Mechanicals and the pairs of noble lovers was subtly indicated by the nearness of a moon or planet projected on the cyclorama behind the stage area – close for the fairies, and more distant for humankind. Costumes were generally dark save for the lovers when ‘on the run’ and for the Mechanicals when finally acting their play. The fairy-world was costumed from the Elizabethan period and the humans in more modern garb. Judge’s production avoids being twee and emphasised that much of the fairy intervention in the world of humans is not always that benign. This was particularly evident in the moans of pain from every character that received the emotion-transforming juice of the herb or its antidote.
As the character who perhaps straddles the various worlds more than most Luke Williams’s punk-like, acrobatic and charismatic Puck was particularly fine, showing an ability to get the meaning of the spoken words across with point and musicality. There are some roles in this opera that are absolute gifts and that of Oberon, now one of the staples of the operatic countertenor package, is one of these. Philip Jones is a vocally attractive Oberon, managing to catch much of the fieriness of the fairy king. He perhaps needed to be a little more majestic in his deportment – his first appearance was let down by a lack of theatrical sweep. Similarly there was a slight lack of mystique for “I know a bank” although this may have been partly due to the rather energetic tempo. Suzanne Shakespeare’s Tytania was an excellent foil, and she managed to sing her difficult music with poise and allure, including some pretty dazzling high notes, words clear – no mean achievement.
Some of the lovers were slightly less effective with regard enunciation. Certainly Monica Bancos’s otherwise likeable performance of “tall” Helena was marred by the fact that it was extremely difficult to understand what she was singing about – and in a small theatre, too. This deficiency was shown-up by the excellent diction of both Peter Braithwaite’s hot-tempered, macho Demetrius with his pleasant-sounding and robust baritone and Tyler Clarke’s rather rapacious Lysander. Clarke and Anais Heghoyen’s rich-voiced Hermia made a very credible pair of lovers at their first appearance, both desperate in flight and for one another. Clarke also managed to make Lysander’s many changes of heart amusing and dramatic. As Hippolyta Rosie Aldridge revealed a voice of power and beauty and real stage presence, but sadly David Hansford, who had deputised as Theseus at a very late stage in rehearsals, was no vocal match for her.
As in Shakespeare’s play much of the comic weight of the opera falls on the Mechanicals and particularly the singer taking the role of Bottom. Jimmy Holliday was very genial and amusing and his did not overplay the grotesque aspects. It was also very nicely sung, although his bass perhaps needs a little more power or punch at its lower depths. His transformation to the ass was well handled – his donkey ears seemed to have minds of their own and were a performance in their own right. However, the equine teeth he was persuaded to adopt did not help either projection of tone or clarity of words – a miscalculation. Alistair Digges’s Flute came into his own in the Pyramus and Thisbe episode where his timid character seemed to gain confidence under the glare of the lights. Indeed, all the Mechanicals managed to make their mark at this point, which they had perhaps been deprived of at their first appearance in Act One owing to a transient lighting setback. I particularly liked the costumes for and the deadpan playing of “Wall” as played by Alex Vearey Roberts. And Britten helps here with some wonderful pastiche music.
Mention must also be made of the superlative and confident contribution of Trinity Boys Choir who sang and acted beautifully throughout. The final ethereal passage involving all the fairies and the reconciled Tytania and Oberon was as magically sung as one could hope for. Performances of Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” are not as frequent as they might be and despite the stifling heat the audience responded enthusiastically to this assured if occasionally uneven performance.
- Further performances on 1, 3 & 4 July at 7 p.m. with those on 1 & 4 having alternative casting in some roles
- Royal College of Music