A Midsummer’s Night Dream

Benjamin Britten, text by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears after William Shakespeare
Royal Swedish Opera
Royal Swedish Opera, Stockholm

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The cast of A Midsummer's Night Dream Credit: Sören Vilks
The cast of A Midsummer's Night Dream Credit: Sören Vilks
The cast of A Midsummer's Night Dream Credit: Sören Vilks

Benjamin Britten’s opera cuts Shakespeare’s opening scene. The elopement and pursuit of the lovers has already begun; except we are not in a forest. There is no forest. In Tobias Theorell’s production, the actors remain in a messy, overcrowded house, a psychological location.

Rodrigo Sosa Dal Pozza’s Oberon is a counter tenor in drag, with full-length gown, rouged lips, hand on hip; and very camp, squeezing magic juice out of a tube. He looks like Eddie Izzard.

The lovers aren’t much fun. Bottom and Puck dominate the action and take the final curtain call together. Peter Kajlinger’s Bully Bottom with a donkey’s head and in his white underpants, in bed with Elin Rombo’s Titania, is neither comic nor erotic.

In the opera, Puck is a non-singing role and acted by an acrobatic boy. Robert Fux’s bald-headed, mischievous sprite in his black jacket suit with short trousers and long socks looks like he is a member of the Hitler Youth.

The fairies are also usually sung by boys. Here they are all women in various guises: as maids with aprons and brooms; as elegant sophisticated ladies in black off-the shoulder evening dress, long gloves and lit lamp shades for hats; as nurses in the Red Cross with saline drips administrating a dose of love-in-idleness medicine.

The rude mechanicals are businessmen in overcoats, not workmen. When they perform the lamentable tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, they are transformed into a highly unlikely avant garde mime troupe.

Britten’s spooky, jokey, lyrical score, conducted by Simon Crawford Phillips, feels absolutely right for the play; but I can’t say I enjoyed Tobias Theorell's production or the performance.

I’m now off to see The Battle with the Centaurs performed by an Athenian eunuch to the harp, if I can find the theatre.

Royal Swedish Opera’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream can be watched free on the OperaVision channel.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch

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