Shakespeare said that "All the world's a stage," but this production of A Midsummer Night's Dream tells us that all the world's a green bed. Green beds dominate the opera's scenery, from the gigantic white pillows and green bedspread in Act One and the several individual green beds in Act Two, to the three green beds suspended from the ceiling in Act Three. Fortunately, the thematic emphasis seems to be more on sleep than on sex – what if the beds had been red? – although things do get rather hot and heavy between Tytania and the transformed Bottom in Act Two!
Stage director Robert Carsen and set and costume designer Michael Levine have eschewed period costume and traditional fairy trappings in this production. The supernatural beings are dressed in green or blue (even their hair!); the dignified fairies look like little English lords, with green waistcoats and green moustaches! Puck is neither a boy nor a teenager, but a middle-aged laborer – albeit one with a gift for physical comedy. The Athenian lovers, on the other hand, first appear well-dressed in virginal white, although as the first two acts proceed, their clothes become more disheveled and stained with fairy green. The Athenian "mechanicals" are dressed like simple English tradesmen from the early 20th century. While this is a beautiful production, it lacks the lightness and magic one associates with Shakespeare's play – perhaps because sleep and beds – even green ones – are "heavy" symbols. If Britten's music sometimes is too clever (and too drawn out) for its own good, the same can be said about this production.
Conductor Harry Bicket and Robert Carsen get the most out of the singers. This is one of those ensemble operas in which it seems unfair to single anyone out. There are no arias, per se, and not once is the opera's flow allowed to be broken by applause, so the audience must wait until the end to show its pleasure. David Daniels excels in a role created by Alfred Deller, although there's no escaping the fact that Oberon is not a very nice character, and that Tytania (the lovely Ofelia Sala) is too willing to patch things up with him in the last act. The Athenian lovers sing well and look right for their parts. As Bottom, Peter Rose is impressive as he struts around in his union suit wearing a (very convincing) ass-head. Christopher Gillett is a good Flute and an especially funny Thisbe, complete with a Lucia di Lammermoor -style mad scene, following Pyramus's suicide. The boys of the Escolania de Montserrat perform their complicated roles with great maturity. Their sound is fruitier than what one would hear from an English or an American boys' choir, though, and their heavy Spanish accents are almost as surreal as their costuming and make-up.
Acts One and Two are on the first DVD, and the third is on the second. The widescreen image is excellent, but the sound (in LPCM Stereo anyway) lacks some presence. The English subtitles are fine. (The opera is sung in English, but opera singers being opera singers, it's nice to have a little help.) The production was filmed in April 2005 in front of a strangely quiet audience.
Looking for A Midsummer Night's Dream on DVD? This one should do very nicely, although it has not succeeded in convincing me that this is a great opera… just a good one.
Copyright © 2006, Raymond Tuttle