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Performances

David Daniels as Oberon and Esteban Andres Cruz as Puck [Photo by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]
03 Dec 2010

Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lyric Opera of Chicago

In a seamless realization with an ideal cast Lyric Opera of Chicago celebrates the magical antics and foibles of both human and fairy in its premiere production of Benjamin Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Benjamin Britten: Midsummer Night’s Dream

Oberon: David Daniels; Tytania: Anna Christy; Bottom: Peter Rose: Helena: Erin Wall; Hermia: Elizabeth DeShong; Lysander: Shawn Mathey; Demetrius: Lucas Meachem; Flute: Keith Jameson; Peter Quince: Sam Handley; Hippolyta: Kelley O'Connor; Theseus: Craig Irvin; Snout: James Kryshak; Snug: Wilbur Pauley; Puck: Esteban Andres Cruz; Starveling: Paul Scholten. ANIMA Young Singers of Greater Chicago (Emily Ellsworth — Artistic Director). Conductor: Rory Macdonald. Director: Neil Armfield. Designer: Dale Ferguson. Lighting Designer: Damien Cooper. Choreographer: Denni Sayers.

Above: David Daniels as Oberon and Esteban Andres Cruz as Puck

All photos by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

From the first sounds of the string introduction to the final leap of Puck into a stage gone dark not a moment of Britten’s score is neglected in a well-thought match of music and drama. Leading the realm of fairies as King and Queen David Daniels sings the role of Oberon and Anna Christy that of Tytania. The mortal lovers who interact with the figures of the other world and play out their own sets of problems are performed by Elizabeth DeShong and Shawn Mathey as Hermia and Lysander, and by Erin Wall and Lucas Meachem as Helena and Demetrius. The amateur group of actors, led by the Bottom of Peter Rose, works well as an ensemble in this production and gives yet a third dimension to the strivings and complications of the personalities enmeshed in supernatural and human squabbles. In a significant debut at Lyric Opera, Rory Macdonald conducts the score as a moving canvas with the varying elements coalescing into a unified whole.

MSDN_Chicago_01.gifElizabeth DeShong as Hermia and Shawn Mathey as Lysander

In this production, where successive locales and scenes in the forest drift from one to another, the first two acts are performed as a continuum without intermission. Once the orchestral introduction begins, the wavering string themes are paired by an undulating sash hanging across the stage bathed in an aqua light. The sash will also move vertically during individual scenes to envelop and to reveal characters and their entanglements. Around the sides of the stage cloth panels in shades of woodland green are occasionally illuminated, so that the fairies’ movements are witnessed as if through an arbor. At the opening those fairies, performed by the Anima-Young Singers of Greater Chicago, welcome Robin Goodfellow, or Puck. This speaking role, played throughout the production with great physical and thespian agility by Esteban Andres Cruz, leads now into the arrival of Oberon and Tytania. As both give vent to their disagreement over supervision of an Indian boy, the vocal embellishments so effectively employed by Ms. Christy and Mr. Daniels mirror their growing agitation. The words “Spring” and “Summer” receive such decoration followed by Ms. Christy’s downward runs on the word “mortal,” when she describes the Indian boy’s heritage. Mr. Daniels sings the countertenor part of Oberon with graceful ease, especially impressive and secure as he moves toward middle and low notes and layers these with dramatic import. Once the Queen departs, Oberon negotiates with Puck on finding an herb with magical properties to be used against Tytania. The suspended basket in which Oberon has delivered his royal instruction moves upward, so that the empty stage can welcome the mortals fleeing Athens.

MSDN_Chicago_02.gifLucas Meachem as Demetrius and Erin Wall as Helena

In their roles as the young lovers the two pairs appear — as distinct from the otherworldly characters in the forest — in casual dress reminiscent of the 1950s. Both pairs are distraught on varying grounds. Lysander and Hermia form a vocal unity against the court which stands in opposition to their love. In this, Ms. DeShong and Mr. Mathey express their affection with pathos and sincerity in the duet with repeated “I swear to thee.” Their plans are, at first, as neatly arranged as this vocal harmony. This initial set of lovers gives way to Demetrius and Helena, Demetrius in pursuit of Hermia yet himself being pursued by Helena. Once Oberon witnesses the agitated relationship of the second pair, he resolves to intercede and cause Demetrius to return the love of Helena by having Puck drop essence of the magic herb in the man’s eye. In his aria “Welcome Wanderer” Mr. Daniels sings lush, varying scales on “eglantine” when describing to Puck both the plan for Demetrius and his intentions for Tytania. After an interlude in which the rustic players march through the forest and announce their forthcoming comedy of Pyramus and Thisbe both pairs of lovers return. At first Lysander and Hermia exchange emotional vows, Mr Mathey communicating his devotion with touchingly expressive high notes. Puck distributes the herb to the wrong man, so that Lysander transfers his affections to Helena who immediately takes flight. Once the stage is again cleared of the lovers, Tytania enters accompanied by her fairies, whom Ms. Christy addresses with ardorous melismas sung on “quaint spirits.” As she falls asleep the fairy youth assigned to guard her and the Indian boy also succumbs to slumber. Puck is able to take away the boy and Oberon applies the magic herb to the Queen.

Highlights of confusion in the next part, corresponding to the second act, include the further rehearsals of the actors and the quarrels of the perplexed and divided lovers. When the rustics confront Bottom who has been turned into an ass by the amused Puck, they scatter in fear. Both groups of lovers re-enter and argue fiercely, the men exchanging fists and the women likewise hurling insults at each other. Here Ms. Wall as Helena stands out as she sings of past “friendship warbling of one song,” while decorating her words to mimic a warble. In the meantime Tytania has fallen in love with Bottom thanks to the machinations of Oberon and Puck with the magical herb. The Queen and her companion sleep in her bower beneath the undulating sash as the lovers enhaust themselves in quarrel and disappear. Oberon now scolds Puck for having administered the herb to the wrong lover, in this production the punishment emanating from the King’s hands as he matches movement to music. Puck is charged with recalling the lovers individually and with releasing Lysander by a further dose of the herb. As the act closes, the lovers all sleep and Tytania remains enamored of Bottom in her dream.

MSDN_Chicago_04.gifAnna Christy as Tytania and Peter Rose as Bottom

The final act in its two scenes sets the fairy rulers and the earthly lovers once again “in amity.” As a means of celebrating by public event the rustics ultimately perform their play before the royalty of Athens and weddings ensue. In the first scene Tytania awakes and recounts what she presumes to have been a dream. When Oberon directs her gaze to the sleeping Bottom, she reacts in astonishment but is then reconciled to her King. As she follows Oberon’s suggestion and declares “Music, ho…” in order to foster sleep among the mortals, Ms. Christy’s voice gleams in decorative gesture just as Bottom is again restored to human form. Once the lovers awake, Demetrius is able to declare that he has “found fair Helena like a jewel,” hence preparing for an amicable resolution among the four. Mr. Meachem’s pronouncement is signaled by imbuing his voice with a warm, lyrical tone as he sings together with the others in a harmonious round. Both pairs are forgiven by the royal couple Theseus and Hippolyta as they prepare to watch, in the final scene, the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe enacted by the rustic players. Members of the Ryan Opera Center together with Mr. Rose present a believably bumbling rendition of the play in costumes matched to the parts they inhabit. All now married retire to sleep, as Puck delivers the final words of apology, that “Robin shall restore amends.”

Salvatore Calomino

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