A Midsummer Night’s Dream by ETO

Joanna Parker’s simple single-set design for
this revival of James Conway’s thoughtful production was in some ways the
star of the show. Bathed in ultramarine gleams, the twisted tendrils tripped
and tangled the confused lovers; there would be no sweet dreams in this
enchanted wood, just nocturnal nightmares and strange imaginings.

From the haunted shadows emerged Jonathan Peter Kenny’s Oberon, a
haughty warlord, clad in black, strutting proudly and contemptuously through
his midnight kingdom. Kenny’s timbre was sweet and eerie, but the
perennial problem of balance in the duets between the fairy monarchs was not
overcome, and Oberon – lacking power and clarity of diction – was
somewhat overshadowed by his tempestuous Tytania. As the Fairy Queen, Gillian
Ramm’s bright voice shone, matching the shimmers of her silvery gown. The
brilliance of her upper range pierced like a moon beam through the night sky,
and it was no wonder that that beauty of her chain of falling thirds, ‘I
how I love thee’, won the ass-headed Bottom’s heart.

The four lovers all gave solid individual performances, but there was little
dramatic distinction between them – perhaps this is an inherent weakness
of the score, for the lovers often share the same predominant melodic material,
rising and falling scales. Most impressive was Robert Davies as Demetrius; he
used both the words and vocal colour effectively to establish character. Niamh
Kelly (Hermia) and Laura Mitchell (Helena) were tidily matched, and Michael
Bracegirdle conveyed the yearning and urgency of Lysander’s passion.

The final act often lacks the intensity of the night-time meanderings of
Acts 1 and 2, so it was pleasing here to see coherence maintained. For once,
the rude mechanicals’ amateur dramatics did not feel like a redundant
add-on, a gratuitous send-up originating from Peter Pears’ drag
impersonation of Joan Sutherland. The pace was well-sustained, physical
movements deftly choreographed, and the lunacy of the proceedings kept just the
right side of farce. Andrew Slater, as Bottom, sang warmly and surely
throughout, while Mark Wilde (Flute) demonstrated confident comic timing and a
sharp awareness of the impact of small gestures, musical and dramatic. Mayhem
was balanced by majesty, Nicholas Lester’s Theseus and Lise
Christensen’s Hippolyta injecting some solemnity into the proceedings.
Similarly, the arrangement of the lovers at the foot of the performing
platform, and their involvement in the concluding dance, lent an air of harmony
and unity to the scene.

The fairies were less successful. Owing to the exigencies of touring, four
young female sopranos were joined by a countertenor, and supplemented by eight
local boys and girls. A little uncertain and hesitant, this mixed voice medley
could not recreate the uncanny, ethereal timbre of a band of goblin brothers.
In contrast, David Gooderson’s Puck was assured, his spoken text expertly
and chillingly delivered. Just one query: why did he spend the evening with his
arms taped to his side?

Andrew-Slater-and-Gillian-R.gifAndrew Slater as Bottom and Gillian Ramm as Tytania

In this opera, so much depends on the orchestral fabric, and it was evident
from the opening glissandi sweeps, that the instrumentalists, under the skilful
baton of Michael Rosewell would expertly lull us into the world of dreams,
shimmering and enticing us with colours of enchantment.

Lise-Christiansen-and-Nicho.gifLise Christensen as Hippolyta and Nicholas Lester as Theseus

At the final curtain, true love and clear sight were thankfully restored.
Slipping his arms free from the ropes that bound him, Puck assured us that all
was now mended: “Give me your hands if we be friends, And Robin shall
restore amends.” The captivated audience was glad to oblige.

Claire Seymour

Jonathan-Peter-Kenny,-Gilli.gifJonathan Peter Kenny as Oberon and Gillian Ramm as Tytania

image_description=Jonathan Peter Kenny as Oberon and David Gooderson as Puck [Photo by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of the English Touring Opera]
product_title=Benjamin Britten: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
product_by=Jonathan Peter Kenny: Oberon; Gillian Ramm: Tytania; Niamh Kelly: Hermia; Michael Bracegirdle: Lysander; Robert Davies: Demitrius; Laura Mitchell: Helena; David Gooderson: Puck; Nicholas Lester: Theseus; Lise Christensen: Hippolyta; Andrew Slater: Bottom; Martin Robson: Quince; Henry Grant Kerswell: Snug; Mark Wilde: Flute; Nicholas Merryweather: Starveling; Benedict Quirke: Snout; Abigail Kelly: Cobweb; Catrine Kirkman: Moth. Director: James Conway, Conductor: Michael Rosewell. English Touring Opera, Sadler’s Wells. Wednesday 10th March 2010.
product_id=Above: Jonathan Peter Kenny as Oberon and David Gooderson as Puck

All photos by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of the English Touring Opera