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By Oliver Macdonald

 

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Opera Correspondent Oliver Macdonald is an Irish opera lover who lives in Vienna.  His service career as a military officer brought him to 42 different countries, many of which had opera houses. Oliver’s opera interest began at age 13 when his school twice a year attended performances of the Dublin Grand Opera Society (1941-1966).  It was here in 1962 that he recognized the potential of a young Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, amongst others. A fortuitous military posting to Wexford in 1967 opened the doors to the Wexford Festival Opera which he attended for many years.  A posting to Vienna in 1999 has led to attendance at more than 1800 opera performances there since. From 2001 he spent four years at the best Opera University in the world - the queue for tickets for Stehplatz Parterre at the Vienna State Opera. Oliver wrote a column called "Nights at the Opera" for Austrian newspaper, and had an "opera in Vienna" blog. He has been a Commentator for all the Opera houses in Vienna.

 
 
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A Midsummer Night's Dream by Benjamin Britten

Updated: Oct 12, 2019

Wiener Staatsoper, Vienna. Premiere 02 October 2019


Several of Shakespeare's plays have become successful operas: Falstaff, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Othello being examples of this.

Many of his plays center on historical and uniquely male characters. A Midsummer Night's Dream is remarkably different. The principal characters are more abstract: Nature with woodland ,plants and bucolic bliss; Love with an array of three relationships from which one can choose; Imagination in the coexistence of fairies, elves, animal creatures and a selection of real people and their dreams, which includes a very torrid relationship between sleeping Tytania and Bottom.

In some ways, it is a play waiting for Benjamin Britten, waiting about 300 years. It is a very English style fairy tale full of innocent summer frolics in woodlands, considered by those of us who, in early teens, regarded Hamlet as the ideal Shakespearian role model while Oberon et al. was only for girls' schools. But this production of the opera, the first in 55 years, is a masterpiece of interpretation and presentation. One of Britten's outstanding attributes is that he appears to examine his characters and tell them, "I want to look inside your head."His musical expression isn't always easy, but it defines atmospheric circumstances stemming from the perceived psyches of his characters and their roles.

In this marvelous production by Irina Brook, we are exposed to an exploration of the characters for a full ninety minutes. It is so well supported, both visually and musically, that we enjoyed the adventure through all the trials and tribulations of the mostly young people. The four lovers all wear the same school blazers. The two girls wear tartan skirts, reminiscent of the Black Watch. All these tricky situations need a fixer. Even the audience needs some light relief from time to time. This was provided by Puck. In this production, Puck, played by the incredibly multi-talented Theo Touvet, an extraordinary acrobat who leaped around and scaled vertical walls at dizzying speeds as he helped to sort out problems. He had the audience gasping at the daring of his moves.

There are fifteen solo artists in this opera. All were compelling. The very young choruses and their 'stage orchestra,' who appeared as elves, were delightful. In the end, it was very touching to see the main cast reaching behind to push the elves out to the front during the sustained applause. Apart from Puck, whose exploits were greeted with deserved chandelier-shattering applause, the work of the outstanding conductor, Simone Young ( for whom the performance appeared to be a labor of love) and the orchestra was very warmly received. So was Irina Brook for her spellbinding production. This production of A Midsummer Night's Dream is likely to play to full houses for years to come. Of course, its sung in its original language - English.

Oliver Macdonald

Vienna

03 October 2019


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