A rainy night in Hampshire was more than a Midsummer Night’s dream.
Shakespeare’s three different yet interconnected worlds – the forest realm of the fairies, the arrogant court, and that of the ‘hempen homespuns’ are firmly established at the opening of Paul Curran’s production of Britten’s opera, greatly aided by Paul Pyant’s evocative lighting, although the first scene of bickering workmen and ‘mwah mwah’ aristos felt somewhat long drawn out. We were on firmer ground with the forest, populated not by child fairies but an impressive sextet of young ladies from the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music.
The forest is dominated by the aristocratic Oberon of Alexander Chance, in the role conceived for Alfred Deller and sung with distinction by many others including James Bowman, who contributes a fascinating essay in the programme. They are all hard acts to follow, but whilst Alexander is still very young he managed to convey the right sense of authority in his twelve-note spells, so reminiscent of the equally sinister passages in The Turn of the Screw.
His Tytania was the glamorous Samantha Clarke, her soprano exciting in its authority and phrasing. She seemed a little perturbed by the exiguousness of her costume, understandably, but this did not deter her from giving a feisty performance. She was served by an unusual and notably well sung group of Fairies – these students display really fine voices, and it won’t be long before they will be deserving of individual biographies.
Chris Darmanin was an almost exhaustingly agile Puck – just watching his remarkable leaps and turns was giddying, and his relationship with Oberon brought back fond memories of Mark Rylance and James Bowman. His costume was a fascinating creation, as indeed were all the designs, by Gabriella Ingram.
“Shakespeare’s three different yet interconnected worlds… are firmly established at the opening of Paul Curran’s production of Britten’s opera…”
The four lovers were neatly differentiated in character, with Angela Simkin’s Hermia and Eleanor Dennis’ Helena revealing exceptionally fine voices. Peter Kirk and Alex Otterburn were energetic rivals in love, and Angharad Lyddon and Roberto Lorenzi proved respectively arrogant and kindly towards the ‘mechanicals.’
The group of ‘players’ had been strongly cast – even Henry Waddington, a late replacement as Bottom, was thoroughly involved with his role, his beautiful patrician voice rounding out the phrases with real polish. William Thomas, who looks about eighteen but wields a hefty bass, lent an air of distinction to Quince, and Gwilym Bowen revealed his comic talents as well as his lovely, lyric tenor voice as Snout. Johnny Herford and Sìon Goronwy were both ideal casting as Starveling and Snug respectively, and special mention must go to Ben Johnson for his adorable Flute / Thisbe – if you had not known that he was a very fine Don Ottavio in Glyndebourne’s Don Giovanni a few years ago, you would not have believed him to be the same person.
The use of a recorded performance by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, with Anthony Kraus in charge of the ‘pit’ / stage link, had been the subject of some speculation beforehand, but in practice it turned out to feel quite natural. We did miss the players, and look forward to their return, but the use of recording seemed a fair alternative in this somewhat restricted pit. Britten’s glorious music was not ill served, and that is the important thing.
More details of this production can be found here.