A Midsummer Night's Dream by Benjamin Britten, libretto adapted by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears from William Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream

Dates and Venue June 23, 24, 25 at 7.30 pm & June 26 at 2 pm, Old Auditorium, UBC

Director Nancy Hermiston Conductor Leslie Dala Set Designer Alessia Carpoca Costume Designer Parvin Mirhady Lighting Designer Jeremy Baxter

Oberon Shane Hanson Tytania Maria Civitarese Puck Jeremiah Carag Demetrius Yuhui Wang Helena Amira McCavitt Hermia Charlotte Beglinger Lysander Scott Rumble Theseus Luka Kawabata Hippolyta Moriah Wax Bottom Duncan Watts-Grant Flute Ian McCloy Quince Jason Klippenstein Snug Matthew McLellan Starveling Alireza Mojibian Snout Kevin Ching Guiman

Sung in English with English surtitles

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Benjamin’s Britten’s magical opera based on Shakespeare’s marvellous play is not often seen in Vancouver which is a pity, since it is an extraordinarily atmospheric, funny and wondrous work, from the first heaving, breathing chords of the strings to its final spoken epilogue.

Britten and Peter Pears reworked the text of Shakespeare’s play, cutting hugely and adding only a few words to fill in the gaps. The plot remains the same but begins in the wood outside Athens, Shakespeare’s second act, with the Fairies and Puck instantly eliciting a sense of unease and disorder.

Britten wrote differentiated music for each of the three worlds found in the play: correct, rule-driven music for Theseus’ formal, legalistic court; low music for brass and low strings, bassoons, basses, and baritones for the Rustics (Britten’s name for Shakespeare’s Mechanicals). The Fairy world he set high, even for Oberon, a counter-tenor, full of coloratura and glissandi, delicate harp and harpsichord, celeste and exotic percussion.

UBCOpera has mounted a beautiful production, beautifully designed, beautifully dressed and beautifully sung. Shane Thomson (Oberon), blue-cloaked and blue-wigged, has captured an other-worldly magic in his voice and gesture while a fiery Maria Civitarese (Tytania) defied him in a ringing coloratura. When she falls in love with Bottom (Duncan Watts-Grant), she modulates to dulcet, lacey, love-struck tones.

The Rustics, were a solid group all dressed traditionally in hempen homespun. Peter Quince (Jason Klippenstein) was steady as a rock against Bottom’s antics and Ian McCloy’s comical, self-dramatising Flute. Bottom himself was excellent. Provided with three comic turns as a Tyrant, a woman, and a Lion as well as Bottom the Weaver and Bottom the enchanted Ass, Watts-Grant showed himself a versatile and sensitive singer and actor. His costume well-padded behind and naturally tall, he loomed over a petite Tytania.

‘Your lover is more condoling’, reports Bottom, somewhat ambiguously. Certainly Britten’s lovers are more conventional. Dressed in white and gold costumes reminiscent of ancient Greece, Scott Rumble (Lysander), Yuhui Wang (Demetrius), Charlotte Beglinger (Hemia) and Amira McCavitt (Helena) play the four confused young people with style.

Puck was played by Jeremiah Carag with wild energy, capering across the stage and gesturing madly. It is a non-singing role, just Shakespeare’s words, which were clear and well-spoken.

Although Britten intended the fairy chorus for children’s voices, it was sung by the grown-up UBC Opera Ensemble joined with an equal number of children, an idea which worked very well.

The costuming (Parvin Mirhady) and hair and wigs (Elke Englicht) showed the thoughtful attention to detail and to the opera which adds something special to a production. Following the tripartite division of Court, Rustics and the Fairy world, the lovers’ Classical costuming was both simple and elegant where the Rustics’ were in subdued, home-dyed hues. The Fairy world was rich and enchanting, including Bottom’s ass’s head, evocative of the great Victorian paintings of fairyland. The set, specially painted by the students of designer Alessia Carpoca, and built by UBC students, was a wood at night, simple yet deeply mysterious. Together with the lighting design (Jeremy Baxter), equally alert to the movement and needs of the opera, set and costume added a layer of magic to the production.

Nancy Hermiston’s direction was well-considered and well-paced despite a few moments when the patience of the audience was tested before the action on stage resumed.

None of the artistry on stage would be properly valued without the Vancouver Opera Orchestra and conductor, Leslie Dala who gave Britten’s spiky, changeable, wide-ranging music a moving, satisfying understanding.

“It is a sweet comedy”, as Quince says, and sweetly done.

UBCOpera distributed flyers for the next season. The three operas will be The Consul by Gian Carlo Menotti, a full-length political drama, Tchaikovsky’s lushly romantic Eugene Onegin and for light relief, Ariadne auf Naxos, by Richard Strauss.

© 2016 Elizabeth Paterson