Vancouver Opera continues its season with Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, at Queen Elizabeth Theatre for two more performances February 16 and 19.
One of Shakespeare’s wildest plays, as adapted by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears in 1960 comes to the the stage in a wild opera, directed by Aria Umezawa. After Puck/Robin Goodfellow, played by the acrobatic Kunji Ikeda, flits and flips about the audience, he magically lifts the curtain as a chorus of faeries greet the audience. Skipping over much of Act 1 from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Britten’s version cuts the opera to three acts. Leaving behind the Athens backstory of Hermia (Hillary Tufford), Lysander (Spencer Britten), Demetrius (Clarence Frazer), and Helena (Jonelle Sills), and delaying the introduction of Theseus (Neil Craighead) & Hippolyta (Stephanie Tritchew) until later in the production. Centering the action in the forest we instead first meet Oberon (Daniel Moody) playing mischief with the love lives of the Athenians and his estranged Queen, Tytania (Magali Simard-Galdes).
We also meet Luka Kawabata’s Quince and his band of merry ‘village people’ including Bottom, the Weaver, played by providing comedy relief to counter the dramatic tones of the Athenian’s music. Along the way, Puck messes up Oberon’s magical commands resulting in much laughter from the audience as he makes a pigs ear, or in this case a donkey’s ears, of things. The mix up brings Tytania to fall in love with Bottom and progress with a steamy and passionate affair. As well, the potion conundrum causes a quadrangle of mistaken love between Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena.
Eventually, in the third act, Puck is able to rouse everyone from their dreams and correct Oberon’s wishes and the matches fall back to the way originally envisioned. The action returns to Athens and the audience finally gets a look at Pyramus and Thisbe, the play Quince and his players were in the forest rehearsing for the royal court.
Having last summer’s Bard on the Beach version fresh in mind, I’m not sure if having awareness of the source work is a help or hinderance, even with Britten’s edits to the action, A Midsummer Night’s Dream always has a lot of action going on in its three concurrent stories. To help with establishing the characters, Britten separates the three stories with the style of music for each; the faeries, lead by countertenor Moody, hit ethereal high notes, the villagers get a simple folksy style, and the Athens set boast the grand romantic operatic tones.
Find out how the characters of A Midsummer Night’s Dream resolve their waking lives as Vancouver Opera’s continues for two more performances; Thursday February 16 @ 7:30pm and Sunday February 19 @ 2pm. Tickets and more details at vancouveropera.ca