Too much magic? A Midsummer Night's Dream at ENO
Robert Carsen's 1991 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream returned to the London Coliseum last night, this being the production's fourth mounting for English National Opera. Carsen's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream is entertaining, funny, poignant, and gorgeous to look at. It tells the story well, but after countless revivals around the globe, I am ready for a new production of this classic opera.
Britten's stunning opera has made it into the standard operatic repertory not only because of the genius writing but because of its malleability as a piece. There are so many directions the design of this opera can go, and so many choices to be made for the character's relationships, thus every new production of Midsummer can feel like a new opera entirely.
The first chord of Midsummer doesn't hit you in the face with a sforzando. It swells, it creeps around you, surrounding the audience like an eerie mist, inviting you to wander into a fantastical unknown. Alexander Soddy conducted the ENO orchestra as a magician would brew potions. Even if his gestures were somewhat over the top, the result was an ever-delicious sound coming from the pit. I would have liked to hear a little less magicky music during the scenes of the royals, giving a clear sense of separation between the worlds of fairy and mortal. But then again, maybe I shouldn't complain about too much beauty.
The ensemble cast of English National Opera fit together well as a team, playing off of each other and lifting up their colleagues. Soraya Mafi was a stunning Tytania, glittery and fierce when required. Christopher Ainslie's Oberon was dominating and impressive. The four young lovers were great on the stage, wrapping each other up in action and gags that had the audience roaring.
David Webb and Matthew Durkan were well-cast as Lysander and Demetrius, respectively, as they struggled between their Victorian sensibilities and caveman instincts to beat each other up. Poor Helena, who can't catch a break in the first act, was sung by Eleanor Dennis whose physicality was perfect for the wanna-be spaniel. The voice of Clare Presland as Hermia stood out with its rich quality and made us truly sorry for Hermia, having gone from being adored by two men to hated by them.
The rustic scenes of the opera have always been my favorite parts of the opera, and sadly the cast of mechanicals performed with less energy than their colleagues. Joshua Bloom's Bottom was well-sung and every bit over-the-top that you want from this ass of a man, but the action of the rustics didn't read as funnily as I've seen in other productions of Midsummer.
Moments were well punctuated by the Puck of Miltos Yerolemeu, who, while not giving the traditional tumbles for the fairy sprite certainly gave the cockiness and bravado. Special mention must be given to the boys of the Trinity Boys Choir, who paraded themselves as posh servants, tending to the needs of their mistress with the precision of a French maître d'.
I always recommend going to see A Midsummer Night's Dream for opera novices, as the music is sublime and the story has entertainment value by the bucketload. Robert Carsen's production is on until March 15th - I hope that the next time ENO does this opera, they go with a new production.