13 December 2010

Guest Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Opera Australia
Saturday 4 December 
The Arts Centre, State Theatre
to 18 December

Review by Josephine Giles

Too long between drinks, I had almost given up hope that I would see an opera in this country that would demonstrate on all levels just how wonderful this artform can be. But every now and then a production comes along that reassures me that opera can be fantastic, magical and engaging, OA’s revival of Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is so good it is almost impossible to imagine this opera being staged in any different way. 

First produced in 1993, and subsequently toured to the Edinburgh Festival to critical acclaim, this production has been revived a number of times in both Sydney and Melbourne. It is a testament to the power of the original vision, and the intelligent and informed revivals direction of Julie Edwardson, that the piece appears as fresh as new. The perfectly cast ensemble give no sense of recreating performances defined some 17 years ago – each of the singers inhabit their characters with confidence and imagination, imparting an infectious sense of enjoyment.

The success of this Dream owes much to the glorious design by Lurhmann’s creative partner Catherine Martin and Bill Marron. Transplanted in time and place to Indian 20s British Raj (a change one may think the Bard himself would be well pleased with), the stage is dominated by a three-tiered rotunda, set over a lily pond and overrun with vines from an encroaching jungle. The Athenians of Shakespeare’s play, embodying British upperclass properness, appear in Colonial style whites. Contrasting are the hot, vivid colours of the Indian inspired garb of the fairy world of Oberon and Tytania,  evoking a truly sensual fantasy land.

The middle level of the rotunda provides the stage for Orchestra Victoria, dressed for the occasion in military band uniforms, and conducted with sensitive precision here by Britten specialist Paul Kildea. Strategically placed monitors in the auditorium compensate for the lack of visual contact between the conductor and singers – made especially challenging by the complexity of Britten’s score – and an apron stage over the orchestra pit permits the singers to engage more immediately with the audience ( and overcome  the acoustic problems commonly associated with this theatre).

Special mention has to be made of the OA’s children’s chorus. As fairies and elves, they not only sing with beauty and precision, but dance and somersault around the stage demonstrating a level of stagecraft not always found in mature performers. Dressed in hues of red, pink and green, their presence adds both magic and joy to the proceedings. Children’s choruses often require a degree of forgiving compromise from an audience – that this isn’t needed at all is but one testament among many to the excellent direction of Edwardson, and the musical preparation by Anthony Hunt.

Time precludes me form mentioning all of the uniformly wonderful singers, except to say that all act with the same comfortable assurance with which they sing.  Special mentions go to Tobias Cole as the blue-torsoed dreadlocked Oberon, whose countertenor seems to have found a natural home in Britten’s music; Henry Choo (Lysander) and Dominica Matthews (Hermia), who too shine in this repertoire; and Conal Coad as an hilarious Bottom and Graeme McFarlane as a most light-footed Flute are scene stealers par-excellence. Actor Tyler Coppin, reprising the role he created in 1993, brings the whole night together as the mischievous Puck.

This most magical of Shakespeare’s plays has been deftly trimmed by composer Britten, and is complimented with an evocative score that grows on you as the night progresses. Baz Luhrmann’s creative talent completes the trifecta, making this a perfect opera. The show comes in at a bit over three hours, but I was engaged, even transfixed for all of that time. If you are afraid of, bored with, or new to opera, give it a go.  This could be the one that changes your mind. 

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com

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