Ever since Peter Brook’s ground-breaking production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1970 the play has been fair game for directors who believe the gloves are off and anything goes. It must be said that this is the Bard’s play with the most opportunity for innovation, imagination and interpretation and perhaps encourages laissez-faire more than any other. This applies not only to the theatre but to opera as well, as OperaZuid’s production of Benjamin Britten’s version demonstrates.
Owing perhaps more to Terry Gilliam than Peter Brook, Ola Mafaalani’s Athens occupied the whole of the Amare DansTheater’s huge stage, although most of the action took place on a small diamond shaped rostrum downstage centre. The rest of the stage was like the concourse of a dark and dingy metro station with people milling about, fiddling with bits and pieces and generally upstaging the principles.
I like Benjamin Britten’s opera(s) although English is perhaps not as suited to the genre as Italian, French or even German. It lacks the lyricism and elegance of the two former and the forcefulness and drama of the latter. The singing was fine as was the Philharmonie Zuidnederland under the baton of Karel Deseure but I found elements of the production too elaborate and distracting while the action of the opera itself was, at times, oddly static and confined
Most of the company was on stage when the audience entered and as soon as we were all seated the lights and the fourth wall came down and we were all invited to take part in a poll conducted by the performers, being asked to stand up to give a positive response. We were asked questions on topics which related to The Dream, like: have you found your true love? have you ever been unfaithful? have you ever done something of which you are ashamed? By the time the music started we were exhausted with all the jumping up and down.
There were elements I really enjoyed. I liked the way Puck was presented, always hovering high above the action in a tangle of cloth and ropes – known in the trade as aerial silks. American actress/aerialist Dreya Weber was brilliant; as well she should be, having worked on shows with Madonna and Pink. The lighting by Floriaan Ganzevoort was excellent too. I particularly liked the strip lights that floated in and out like eccentric elongated UFOs. There were some magical moments when everything came together and synchronized perfectly, notably at the end of the first half and I really liked the bit with everyone, including the men, were dressed in blue chiffon ball gowns.
OperaZuid have again confirmed that they are one of the most adventurous of the Dutch opera companies, willing to take risks and pull out all the stops. Michael Hasted at the Amare in The Hague, 18th June 2022