Libretto by Britten and Peter Pears
In a new production at the Lyric Opera of Chicago
Stage Director Neil Armfield
Conductor Rory MacDonald
Unique atmosphere fuels Shakespearean opera
Originally produced as a chamber opera at Jubilee Hall at Aldeburgh Festival in Britian in 1960, Benjamin Britten’s unique modern opera, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (AMND), comes to life on the large stage at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in a new production directed by Neil Armfield with Dale Ferguson’s set and costumes. I must confess that I’m not a fan of Britten’s compositions yet this ambitious production grew on me as it progressed.
This Shakespeare opera lives mostly on the forest where the fairies rule and lovers and rustics visit. The bright green set complete with a large green floating canvas creates an eerie atmosphere brightly peopled by young singers from ANIMA and ruled by the Fairy King Oberson (countertenor David Daniels), his servant Puck (in the only spoken role by Esteban Andres Cruz) and the Fairy Queen Tyania (Anna Christy). The children singers were delightful and the combination of a coloratura soprano and a countertenor presented interesting musical sounds. I thought having David Daniels on a high-wired perch made him sound a tad weak.
This condensed version of AMND blends the three major groups (fairies, lovers and rustics) into a hilarious adventure featuring jealousy, drugging, romance and wacky curses. Britten uses actual texts from Shakespeare to enhance his libretto adding ambitious work from children singers.
My biggest problem with AMND is with the music by Britten. His score lacks the big lust music found in the classic opera. His music sounded more like underscoring found in films than an opera composition. I realize that Britten’s original music was written for a small chamber orchestra but is sounded a tad hollow in the large Lyric Opera venue.
This new production had loads of humor, especially form the band of traveling actors rehearsing a play in the forest. Bottom (Peter Rose) is the sympathetic character who overestimates his acting talents as he believes he can play all the parts.Rose was effective as a bass baritone with comic abilities. Puck turns him into an ass resulting in several delicious scenes.
Act Three features Oberon removing the spell on Tytania as they are reconciled. The four lovers awake from their drams and become paired off correctly. the duke and his bride pardon the lovers and the actors perform a hilarious play-within-a-play to the delight of us all.
AMND is an acquired taste strong on atmosphere and humor with workable performances and voices that stretch Britten’s chamber work into a pleasant night at the opera. My guest, seeing his first opera, was enchanted and impressed with the work. Happily, we have another young opera fan.
To watch a video preview and for ticket information – click on this link: