Midsummer Night’s Dream, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, March 2018Posted on 2 March 2018
Christopher Alden’s previous production, dragged down by its undertow of sexual abuse, has been abandoned and English National Opera has put the fairy magic back into Britten’s opera by returning to the earlier Robert Carson staging, last seen here in 2004. The result brings joy to the heart as the blundering Puck of Miltos Yerolemou tumbles on and off stage, bewitched by Oberon’s magic.
Carson and his designer Michael Levine have very clearly delineated the three strata of fairies, humans and rustics, rather than mixing them up in a boys’ school like the previous production, allowing it to cleave more closely to Britten’s distinctive musical colouring for the three groups. The result is mesmeric and hugely entertaining, led by the marvellously theatrical Puck of Miltos Yeromelou, whose fleeting return at the end is given an English pantomime element as he grasps the curtain with one hand and is whisked heavenwards. If you don’t laugh out loud at Puck’s bumbling gyrations you’re missing a sense of fun essential to the full appreciation of this opera.
The staging under Carson’s associate Emmanuelle Bastet bubbles with spontaneity while keeping a firm theatrical sense. The humans retain their aristocratic touch while falling into passion and confusion, the rustics are hilariously natural but never over the top, and the fairies convey a sense of the spiritual magic that drives both forward. Joshua Bloom made a marvellously full-blooded Bottom, his robust bass mystically couvert under the ass’s head, and the other five rustics were truly excellent, masters of the theatre in their clownish roles.
Clare Presland and David Webb made a beautifully matched couple as Hermia and Lysander, with Matthew Durkan and Eleanor Dennis vocally secure and wittily clunky as Helena and Demetrius. In the final scene Andri Björn Robertsson and Emma Carrington as Theseus and Hippolyta provide a welcome vocal contrast to the lovers, the six humans in their aristocratic gold and silver costumes contrasting with green and blue of the spirit world. All finally comes aright after the confusion engendered by the uproarious Puck, along with counter-tenor Christopher Ainslie as a seductive if somewhat underpowered Oberon, Soraya Mafi as a lovely Tytania with attractively light coloratura, and superbly performed fairies by the Trinity Boys Choir.
In the orchestra pit, making his debut with the ENO, Alexander Soddy kept these disparate forces in beautiful balance, bringing out the fun and the magic of Britten’s score. Magic indeed, with the interactions between Oberon and Puck expressing the power of the spirit, the rustics expressing the strength of common sense, and the aristocrats the ability to recover stability in traditional roles. A lesson for our time perhaps.
Performances continue on various dates until March 15 — for details click here.