Uncluttered magic in Carsen's MidsummerReview
Robert Carsen’s staging of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream made its U. S. premiere on Friday night at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music. Having received critical acclaim across Europe for over 25 years, Carsen’s fun-filled and whimsical production finally had its chance to delight an American audience thanks to Opera Philadelphia’s innovative and out-of-the-box approach to programming its opera season.
Music is not always required to make us smile and laugh, but it certainly does not hurt from time to time if it does.
Deep hues of blue and green occupied the stage, which, aside from several moving parts, was kept uncluttered and clean. Carsen’s visual simplicity on the stage complemented Britten’s vivid score. One of the most magical and unexpected moments took place at the beginning of Act III, when three beds were suspended in air.
While Midsummer is a lengthy three hours long, the humor and clever staging ensured that the show moved along nicely. The opera features a great number of roles, and accolades for the performers are deserved all around. In particular, bass-baritone Matthew Rose as Bottom sang very well, and with excellent comedic timing, too. Brent Michael Smith as Quince added to the liveliness of the opera with his commanding presence. Act II lost some momentum, but the final act picked back up had the audience booming with laughter, as the play-within-a-play moment of the opera centered around Bottom and his fellow Rustics.
Tim Mead and Anna Christy were a delightful pair as Oberon and Tytania. Mead’s voice was beautiful and clear, resonating consistently with a rich sound through his entire range. Christy’s floating and angelic voice suited her character well, and her “Be kind and courteous” was lovely.
Some of the colors were swallowed up by the hall due to the unfortunate acoustics in the Academy.
The spoken role of Puck, performed by Miltos Yerolemou (known for his role as Syrio Forel in Game of Thrones) was also a highlight of the evening. Every time he entered the stage, there was a sense of shared excitement in the audience for his performance. Not only is his command of the language excellent, but his gift as a physical comedian is remarkable.
Several aspects of the production were enhanced by the musical excellence provided by Maestro Corrado Rovaris and the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra. Britten’s work is deceptively challenging to coordinate for everyone involved, and every member of the large cast handled it with perceived ease. While Rovaris was able to pull clarity and energy from the orchestra, some of the colors were swallowed up by the hall due to the unfortunate acoustics in the Academy.
For those looking to escape into a Shakespearean fantasy world filled with fairies, comical misunderstandings, and top-notch singing, this production of Midsummer is not to be missed. I agree that music is not always required to make us smile and laugh, but it certainly does not hurt from time to time if it does.