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.
03 October 2019
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