Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Aldeburgh Festival, Snape Maltings, June 11
PUBLISHED: 10:28 16 June 2017
Despite Shakespeare’s genius and productivity, relatively few operas based on his plays match them in quality. Verdi’s Otello and Falstaff are probably the best known of the successes but Benjamin Britten also scored a notable triumph with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, first performed in 1960. A new production, designed and directed by Netia Jones, opened this year’s festival with the first of four performances.
Like so much of Britten’s music, this production draws inspiration from the surroundings and history of the area and of Snape Maltings itself, particularly the energy and creativity of the Garrett family who owned and ran the Maltings for many years. For the appearances of the Rustics (Mechanicals) the backdrop represented a Victorian factory with wheels and pulleys springing into action.
The instrumentalists of Aldeburgh Festival Orchestra under Ryan Wigglesworth immediately captured the ethereal atmosphere with hushed and controlled portamenti from the strings. The bright, incisive singing of the boy fairies against a monochromatic sylvan background was highly effective. Sophie Bevan’s upfront Tytania was accurate and authoritative while Iestyn Davies’ Oberon was no less musical but rather more restrained. The four lovers were cast in the present day, Hermia in a rather jarring tartan. Clare Presland, Eleanor Dennis, Nick Pritchard and George Humphreys all sang with passion and spirit as their affections fluctuated. Matthew Rose, a dominant performer in any role, was admirably cast as Bottom and all Rustics judged their performances acutely, finding humour and pathos while avoiding any trace of bathos. Theseus and Hippolyta have a long wait for their entrance but Clive Bayley and Leah-Marian Jones made the most of their relatively extrovert parts. Jack Lansbury was an exuberant and athletic Puck, twisting, turning and somersaulting with aplomb.
Musically this was a performance of distinction with the exceptional playing of a demanding score by the orchestra receiving one of the biggest ovations. Conductor Ryan Wigglesworth never let the tempi sag and delightful details were comfortably audible while never obscuring the singers. Netia Jones and lighting designer Ian Scott created a striking array of pastoral and industrial scenes of different eras which fitted seamlessly into the action. An enchanting evening indeed.