Robert Carsen takes on Benjamin Britten with wonderful results
A Midsummer Night's Dream is a great ironic comedy opera with, providing that you like Britten's music that is, equally great music. Not Britten's best opera, that's of now between Peter Grimes and Turn of the Screw(Billy Budd and Albert Herring are fantastic too), but always a great watch/listen. While it's not quite as good as the 1981 Ileana Cotrubas production, a more traditional production with more of a dream-like fairy-tale quality to it, this 2005 Robert Carsen-directed production is truly terrific. Carsen on the most part is an imaginative director who shows respect for the operas he directs. There have been some questionable touches or ones that don't come off as well as they could, but even then there has never been a sense of having intentions to ruin any operas he's taken on due to personal dislike(like Luc Bondy with the Met production of Tosca, and look how that turned out). Here is some really thoughtful and imaginative work, he maintains the comedic nature of the opera and it's still rich in irony, but he also highlights the sexual tension also present in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Even with the presence of the beds to symbolise this, it is not a touch that is distasteful or annoying, it works really well and doesn't come across as an obstacle. Matthew Bourne inserts some clever, witty choreography too, and while the sets are bare they are lit and designed in a very striking way, so while it isn't a traditional setting there is still that dream-like quality. The lighting is really well done, the Act 2 entrance with Oberon and Puck is agreed the highlight.
The orchestral playing is stylish, well-rehearsed and full of beautiful sounds, embracing fully the specific and innovative musical styles and use of orchestration(notice how perfectly each instrument, instrumental section and style fits every character and mood, that's how clever Britten's scoring here is) that Britten adopted. The conducting is the kind that keeps things going in a swift fashion but at the same time accommodates the players and singers. The performances are without complaint, apart from some of Puck's comedy antics coming across as a little forced, most of the time though he is wonderfully impish and funny. David Daniels is amazing as Oberon, he commands the stage with no problem being somewhat romantic at times but also somebody you wouldn't want to mess with. Vocally, he is a big improvement over James Bowman from the earlier production with Cotrubas, much more of a gleam and a ring top and bottom. Ofelia Sala's Titania shines as well, comedy comes naturally to her and her soprano voice is clear and agile, while Peter Rose's Bottom is lovable and remarkably subtle with a lovely warm bass-baritone.
Christopher Gillat is a Flute of appealing naivety, contrasting nicely with the lively Quince of Henry Waddington. The fairies are played charmingly and light-heartedly. The two sets of lovers are very engagingly played all round with believable chemistry, Gordon Gietz and Deanne Meek sing beautifully and with great passion, and the more deft comic touch suit Brigitte Hahn and William Dazeley to a tee. Emil Wolk is an older Puck than we usually see and envision, but apart from the odd forced moment is funny with an amusingly impish personality with enough athleticism to be at least convincing too. All in all, a terrific wonderfully-done production, one of Carsen's best productions on DVD. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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