A quarter-century after its debut, Peter Hall’s staging of Britten’s opera still works its spell. It is a peculiarly English kind of midsummer magic, reaching beyond the beauties of Shakespeare’s language, Britten’s score and the late John Bury’s animated woodland set to encompass the whole of English theatrical tradition. It welds these elements into a wonderfully alive historical artefact – true to our vision of the Elizabethan past but also alert to the eternal truths of human experience. No other staging in my compass has evoked the supernatural with such poetic imagination or given such a decorous platform to Britten’s musicking of human foibles. You can keep your Harry Potter: as a tale of innocence tinged with malignancy, Glyndebourne’s Dream has unbeatable charm. That it works so powerfully this time is due in no small measure to Ilan Volkov, whose consummate grasp of Britten’s music releases its tensile bloom. The London Philharmonic responds with accuracy and sensitivity.
The ultimate Britten experience? Unlike Peter Grimes, Billy Budd and Death in Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream does not provide happy hunting ground for students of the composer’s hang-ups. Nothing in Hall’s scenario tries to make it so. This is a sweet fantasy of the night in which humans are pawns of fairies and psychology is supplanted by sophisticated scenography, dark-spangled woodwinds and “sweet friends to bed”. As revived by James Robert Carson, Paul Pyant and Lynne Hockney, the staging is as definitive as you will get.
None of the cast is charismatic but it’s a fine ensemble. Bejun Mehta’s Oberon projects well and preserves the character’s mystique. Iride Martinez makes an elegant UK debut as Tytania. Kate Royal and Tove Dahlberg distinguish the lovers’ quartet, while Matthew Rose is an engagingly noble Bottom. Like Jack Morlen’s impish, acrobatic Puck, all could do with a lesson in diction.
If you haven’t seen this production, I urge you to catch it now. ★★★★★
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