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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Metropolitan Opera Preview: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Very tragical mirth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Nick Bottom the Weaver (Peter Rose, with ass's head) confronts
the fairy folk in a scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Image © 2002 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met celebrates the legacy (and 100th birthday) of composer Benjamin Britten with his fantastical  comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream, based on the beloved Shakespeare play.

It is a minor puzzle that Benjamin Britten's 1960 adaptation of the Dream isn't performed more often. Along with Peter Grimes and Billy Budd it is one of the English composer's most accessable operas. The Met unveiled this production (by Tim Albery and Antony McDonald) in 1996, and revived it in 2002. But then it disappeared from the repertory.

The libretto (by the composer and his lifelong companion Peter Pears) is taken verbatim from the play, with certain scenes  removed or shortened. (Like Verdi's Otello, the entire first act  is removed.) Britten places the focus on Oberon (Iestyn Daves) and Tytania (Kathleen Kim) the fairy king and queen, and on the six "rude Mechanicals" whose efforts to mount a play within the play lead to comic chaos. The quartet of lovers play second fiddle in this version of the story.

This revival is a showcase for countertenor Iestyn Davies and soprano Kathleen Kim as the feuding royal fairy couple Oberon and Tytania.  These are high-flying roles that reflect the unearthly nature of the characters through elaborate vocal writing and coloratura that bridges the 20th century with the baroque. James Conlon conducts.

A Midsummer Night's Dream opens Oct. 11.

Recording Recommendation:
London Symphony Orchestra cond. Benjamin Britten. (Decca, 1966)
Oberon: Alfred Deller
Tytania: Elizabeth Harwood
Bottom: Owen Brannigan

As with most of Britten's operas, it is safe to recommend the composer's own recording made for Decca in the 1960s. The excellent cast prove themselves as singing actors, and the unconventional sound of Alfred Deller's countertenor (nowhere near as smooth as today's modern stars) makes for an eerie Oberon. Plus, Sir Peter Pears appears as Francis Flute/Thisbe opposite Owen Brannigan's memorable Nick Bottom.

Tickets for A Midsummer Night's Dream are available at MetOperaFamily.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office starting Aug. 11.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.