A Midsummer Night’s Dream — at Carsington Opera — soars in a musically inspired production

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It would be interesting to know what Freud thought A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He left countless notes, including brief analyzes of Shakespeare HamletBut nothing in the fantasy world compares A Midsummer Night’s DreamThere the subconscious is liberated.

In writing his opera, Benjamin Britten faithfully kept Shakespeare’s exact words, albeit truncated and dramatized. Productions of opera become adventurous in exploring what lies beneath the surface and Nettia Jones’s new staging for Carsington Opera at Wormsley in Buckinghamshire is a solo take that is equal parts fascinating and intriguing.

There is no need to recreate Shakespeare’s dream forest here. Carsington has its own, and we see trees through an open wall at the back of the stage. Jones’s work as a designer is instead to create a surreal world with Dali’s flamboyant touch – an oak tree growing out of a grand piano, a large disc shaped like a moon in shadow, a pair of scissors hanging by a thread.

At the end of the play, Bottom tells us that it’s „Bottom’s dream, because it has no bottom,” but in this production it could be anyone’s, as some of them are under the influence. The performance begins when Theseus stumbles in, bottle in hand, and walks out. Later, Titania appears to be high on the juice of a purple herb that Oberon squeezes into her eyes.

From left, Camilla Harris, Kasper Singh and James Newby © Craig Fuller

It is difficult to keep track of all the detailed signs at work. Oberon appears on a fox’s head (why?). As the lovers stay longer in the forest, the dark spots of the night grow on their bodies and clothes, and eventually they end up with black-clad angel twins. Expect to make some mental mistakes on a regular basis.

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What elevates this product is the high quality of the music. Carsington, led by Eastin Davies as Oberon, finds new meaning in the text, and Lucy Grove as Titania, conjuring up a dreamy ensemble of magical beauties with her radiant soprano. Jeroen Marsh-Reid’s exquisitely acrobatic puck appears out of thin air, though not all of his words are easy to catch, and he’s accompanied by an eager band of angels from Carsington Opera’s youth company.

Camilla Harris as Helena and Stephanie Wake-Edwards with her fury as the scorned Hermia make for a delightfully infernal quartet of lovers. Caspar Singh and James Newby couldn’t be better as Lysander and Demetrius. The four enter looking like school children, shirts in hand, and the drama becomes their rite of passage as they are absorbed into the adult realm of betrayal and forgiveness. Christine Rice and Nicholas Crawley are adequately cast as Hippolyta and Theseus. They seem to be Titania and Oberon’s twins, as Shakespeare himself did.

The least successful of the three levels of players are mechanicals; There are opportunities for comedy that the production misses. Even so, Richard Burkhart makes a clear, direct bottom, and there are delightful cameos from James Way’s flute, Thisbe’s a true prima donna in a flowing red ballgown, and Jeffrey Dolton’s physically flexible Starwelling.

Was it the intimate sound of the Carsington or did the Philharmonia Orchestra really make Britten’s score shine with greater clarity than before? Perhaps both, conductor Douglas Boyd excelled in the music’s sharp rhythmic cut and pace, not to mention clear character in every donkey hee-haw and lion roar, every enchantment. This performance will do well when visiting the BBC Proms later in the summer.

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★★★★☆

Until July 19, garsingtonopera.org

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