While it is probably never going to be one of my favourite operas, Le Songe D'une Nuit D' été is a rare opera (or opera-comique) that is deserving of a re-appraisal.
It is a lengthy opera at three and a quarter hours, but it is one of those operas where it doesn't feel overlong or that something could easily have been cut. The story is a clever, charming and often hilarious if loose adaptation of the play A Midsummer Night's Dream, albeit written in a broad manner and mixed with additional characters of Shakespeare, Falstaff and Queen Elizabeth I in their plot cleverly interwoven and mixed with the story of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
This production is really quite brilliant, if one wants to get themselves acquainted with Thomas and this opera it doesn't get much better than this. Visually, this production of Le Songe D'une Nuit D' été looks absolutely beautiful and easily one of Théâtre Impérial de Compiègne's best-looking productions, with set design so enchanting and rich in atmosphere and very lavish costumes. The lighting is also appropriately dream-like. The staging is very traditional and wonderfully done with expansive use of a big stage, it is always entertaining and with a touch of poignant intimacy. The comedy is broad, but is genuinely hilarious and never becomes crude or overdone, while the drama is moving while never becoming static. It's also a very nicely shot production, and the sound is clearer and the picture quality sharper than most Kultur releases (even if for some the bonus features are somewhat bare bones).
Musically, Le Songe D'une Nuit D' été does not disappoint either. The orchestra play with beauty of tone, sparkling lyricism and buoyant style, the choir are well-balanced and rehearsed and sing and characterise with involvement and the conducting shows lively tempi and accommodation towards the singers. The spoken dialogue is elegantly enunciated and witty, the ensembles sublimely sparkle and the solos are hardly inferior to the solo arias of Hamlet and Mignon, also by Thomas and better-known.
Le Songe D'une Nuit D' été contains some excellent performances too, with the best performances coming from Ghylaine Raphanel as a dignified and very beautifully and evenly sung Elisabeth (the colouratura sparkles) and particularly Jean-Phillippe Courtis as a robustly sung, hysterically funny and delightfully roguish, without ever being a caricature or too buffoonish (there are a couple of times where one does empathise with him as well), Falstaff. Alain Gabriel is witty and charming as Shakespeare, a role that suits him better vocally than Don Gomez in the same company's production of Saint Saens' Henry VIII (and he was solid in that role too) and Cécile Besnard's Olviia is moving and sung with a pretty tone. The secondary roles are all played solidly and with no noticeable flaws.
In conclusion, a beautiful and brilliant production of an unjustly rare opera. Théâtre Impérial de Compiègne's production vary in quality, but their productions of lesser-known operas are worth the peek for curiosity value, fortunately their production of Le Songe D'une Nuit D' été is one of their best that I've seen. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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