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A Midsummer Night's Dream
NEW YORK CITY
The Metropolitan Opera
The sleeping lovers in Albery's Midsummer Night's Dream staging at the Met
© Johan Elbers 2014
When the Tim Albery production of Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream opened at the Met in 1996, it seemed to be one of the company's two or three most completely realized productions. It seemed so again at the revival in 2002. Music, scenery, lighting, direction and choreography all worked together to the same end. The Fauvist colors (which give way to clear, cool textures at the final journey to Athens, just as the music does), the occasional breaking of the proscenium arch, the intimations of show business presaging the masque at the end all seconded what Shakespeare and Britten created. The production returned on October 11 as the company's sole contribution to the Britten centennial, again making a fine impression, although this time Albery had returned to freshen and sometimes alter it. The opera has never seemed shorter.
James Conlon conducted the performance. He showed tremendous affection for the score (and for his singers) but also much more. He was keen to shape entire scenes, maintaining the agitation of Helena's first appearance to the very end. He kept the long held chords in the middle of Act II somehow in motion, yet he didn't allow the fleeting opening of Act III to slip away. Moreover, he showed a fine sense of humor, not just in the theatricals at the end but in the early intimations of Snug's Lion and Flute's Thisby. (A brittle interpretation of the solemn final chorus was a surprise.) Conlon also shepherded a breakout performance from Elizabeth DeShong as Hermia. DeShong was an unstoppable presence. Others have gone all out with the acting, both comic and plaintive, but DeShong combined it with one of the finest new voices to be heard at the Met — plummy and rounded but nonetheless with reliability of rhythm.
Two other women were unusually strong in Albery's retouching. Kathleen Kim was a surprisingly powerful Tytania until, in one of Albery's inspired moments, she trades her queenly power suit for a nightie during her assignation with Bottom. Erin Wall was a feisty, wild Helena, who also had a moment of Straussian sheen in Act II. Matthew Rose had splendid diction and detailed stage presence as Bottom. Somehow, these things doubled when he was trapped in the donkey's head. Barry Banks had a field day as Flute, showing how delighted he was to get "off book" in rehearsal and adding a bel canto cadenza with "Ah, sì" to Thisby's death. (The audience loved it. Britten would have been angry.) The previous runs of this production offered a sullen, uncomfortably adolescent Puck rather than a boy. Here, actor Riley Costello was sharper and more active in Albery's reconception.
Conlon, Britten, Albery and Iestyn Davies, the majestic Oberon, all worked hard to make the text splendidly intelligible. The Met might well have disabled its titling system for this opera. Also splendidly intelligible were the stage manager's cues, something that has increasingly become a problem in the last decade.
WILLIAM R. BRAUN
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