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S & H Opera Review

Britten A Midsummer Night’s Dream Soloists and Orchestra of English National Opera, Paul Daniel (cond). London Coliseum, Wednesday, June 23rd, 2004 (CC)


After the distinctly variable experience of the Zürich Meistersinger a couple of days ago at the South Bank, what a relief it was to see and hear an opera production that had life positively bursting out of it. With superb vocal contributions from just about all concerned and an ENO orchestra that for once sounded inspired by Paul Daniel, this is a production that reminds one just how high standards at ENO can be (the only recent production of equivalent standard I have heard this season was the Gilbert and Sullivan Mikado).

This is the second revival of Richard Carsen’s 1995 Production, here impeccably directed by Emmanuelle Bastet. In a strong cast, the stars were Robin Blaze’s green-haired countertenor Oberon, Peter Rose’s Bottom and Emil Wolk’s athletic Puck.

Oberon is no easy part. If Blaze lacked some of the confident authority this role demands (and was in the earlier stages drowned easily), his assumption grew in stature until one was finally drawn into his portrayal. Yet he was never truly regal, only really touching on this aspect of his character when he punishes Puck. Blaze’s Oberon seemed strongest right at the very end, where in combination with his Tytania, magic was indeed woven.

This Tytania was near-perfect, however. Sarah Tynan, who joined the ENO Young Singers Programme this season, made her role debut (she gave a characterful Pappagena earlier in the season), and she was a complete success, her infatuation with Bottom a miracle of sensual quasi-bestiality. Tynan’s pitching is absolutely spot-on, her tone light yet not in any way insubstantial.

Puck, of course, is an essential ingredient for any Dream. While I have seen cheekier on the Shakespearean stage, the versatile Emil Wolk was as nimble as any, making inroads towards the audience (space was used fully in this production, including the stalls on several occasions).

Linda Richardson’s set-piece, ‘I am your spaniel’ (Helena) managed to be simultaneously funny and lyrical (this is Richardson’s first Helena). Alfred Boe as Lysander was on the weak side initially (this was his ENO debut), but redeemed himself in his Act 1 duet with Hermia (Victoria Simmonds). Peter Rose (Bottom) demonstrated not only impeccable comic timing, but a truly clear, focussed voice. Perhaps only Leigh Melrose’s Demetrius was slightly weak, while Leah-Marian Jones’ Hypolita was a bit on the wobbly side.

Very few caveats then. The children could have had more confidence at the start (they were under-powered), but the fact is that this opera plays to ENO’s strengths, that of a true ensemble, a real company. Nowhere was that better demonstrated than in the bumpkinesque play-within-a-play, ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’, where tomfoolery reached a climax, the characters playing off each other superbly (Snout’s lion – Robert Burt doing the honours – was delightful). Clive Bayley, who has disappointed in the past, gave a funny Snug.

The orchestra excelled itself (and proved that its strings can play with a great deal of warmth - the opening of Act II proved this beyond doubt). Britten’s difficult trumpet lines were despatched with much aplomb.

This is one of the best things I have seen at ENO for a long time, outranking even the recent Mikado. Do go.

Colin Clarke

Further Listening:

LSO/Britten, with Alfred Deller, Heather Harper etc. Decca 425 663-2 (recorded 1966)

 

Photographer Bill Cooper

Peter Rose (Bottom) & Sarah Tynan (Tytania) -

Scene from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

 


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