Review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Scottish opera triumphs with a nightmarish version of Britten | Scottish opera
VVisions of pastel-clad fairies playing in an Elysian forest are quickly dispelled in the opening moments of Scottish Opera’s new production, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Director Dominic Hill, artistic director of Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, has reimagined Britten’s opera as a dystopian psychodrama. Tom Piper’s set is a mid-20th century interior, all mirrored glass walls, upturned chairs and beds seeming to float above the stage. Here, the night is a time of uncertainty and even fear, presided over by fairies costumed like a Tim Burton gothic fantasy.
It’s an effective visual counterpoint to Britten’s multi-layered score, in which the lush romanticism of the lovers’ music and the deceptively simple songwriting for the rustics’ comedy contrast with the eerie way it evokes fairyland. . Britten’s masterclass in orchestration can sometimes make opera cool rather impressive than truly engaging, but Hill’s production commitment doesn’t allow that to happen. And while Freudian undertones add subtle layers of meaning to the production, ultimately the main highlights here are its delightfully smooth physicality and superb musical values.
Dream is a work for an ensemble cast and Scottish Opera has found a uniformly strong troupe, including an excellent children’s choir as a mischievous fairy retinue. The standout performances, perhaps inevitably, are from countertenor Lawrence Zazzo, malevolent but ominously seductive as fairy king Oberon, well met here by Catriona Hewitson’s ethereal, unearthly fairy queen Tytania . In the speaking role of Puck, Michael Guest is slyly curvy and quicksilver, acting as much physically as vocally. The addition of the changeling puppet boy, with puppeteer Caleb Hughes, is suitably chilling and yet moving.
The rustics’ play, which Britten reimagines as an opera within an opera, is a point where audience goodwill may begin to wane, coming after the two-hour mark. Here, however, he emerges triumphant due to the sure comic timing of the motley crew of rustics led by David Shipley’s larger-than-life Nick Bottom. The role of Flute the Bellows Mender (written for Britten’s partner Peter Pears) offers a minor stage-stealing opportunity which emerging Scottish opera artist Glen Cunningham seizes with both hands, going from shy, stuttering boy to campy 19th century opera heroine with visuals and vocal joy.
Under the direction of Stuart Stratford, the Orchestra of Scottish Opera reveals Britten’s score in beautifully delineated detail, the rhythm sure without feeling rushed.
At Festival Theatre, Edinburghuntil March 5.