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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: August ::
MND at Tanglewood
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1492  Tuesday, 10 August 2004

From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Aug 2004 13:07:37 -0400
Subject:        MND at Tanglewood

A few belated words on a nifty production of Benjamin Britten's and
Peter Pears' and William Shakespeare's *Midsummer Night's Dream* by the
fine young musicians of the workshops at the Boston Symphony's summer
home in western Massachusetts, Tanglewood, with stage direction by the
Met's David Kneuss, and highly effective set and costumes by John
Michael Deegan and Sara G. Conly.

I had not previously had a chance to see this work staged, and cannot
imagine a better first experience.

For those of you not familiar with it, it's one of the relatively few
operatic adaptations of the plays whose libretto consists almost
entirely of lines from the play - heavily cut, of course (about 40% of
the total, with primary emphasis on the forest scenes and Pyramus and
Thisbe, so that Theseus and Hippolyta are much reduced in importance and
Egeus disappears altogether), but with only a few minor changes to keep
the sense clear.  This means that the music follows the language, rather
than leading it; lots of recitative, choric work by children's choir
fairies, a good bit of ensemble by the young lovers and the mechanicals,
several  fine duets, a few extended songs on passages like Oberon's
description of the bower.  The primary idiom is typical late Britten,
with much witty pastiche, popular songs and dances in the main plot,
Verdi and Puccini in Pyramus.

You can hear that for yourselves on the available recordings.  So I will
only report on the visual features.  The inspiration was pre-color
Hollywood.  Oberon (a fine counter-tenor) and the kids wore top hats and
tails; Puck, too (a speaking part so that he could be an acrobat),
though mostly without his jacket. Titania was gorgeous, in clinging
evening gown with a diaphanous marabou-trimmed jacket - think Gertrude
Lawrence or Jean Harlow or Ginger Rogers.  All had sleek blond hair with
a little glitter in it.  Hermia, a sturdy blonde, wore a sweater and
pleated skirt with saddle shoes and bobby sox, Helena, an Olive-Oylish
brunette, a knee-length short-sleeved rayon print dress and slightly
clunky spectators.  Lysander had a letter-sweater with ATHENS across the
front - obvious "Athenian garb" to confuse Puck.  The mechanicals were
got up to look like the great clowns--Bottom and Flute as Hardy and
Laurel; Snug as Chaplin, and then, to perform the lion, with Harpo wig
for the mane; Snout, W. C. Fields; Starveling, Buster Keaton; Quince,
Harold Lloyd.  The unit set was a flight of 15 or 20 stairs, black with
a silver strip along the top, very Busby Berkeley, with a large round
opening at the top center and a cyc behind on which were projected
moonlight or clouds.  Black platforms slid in and out along the stairs
from the sides at three levels to make playing spaces, and panels of
semi-sheer white cloth descended from the flies to be trees or curtains
for Titania's bower (itself a splendid art-deco couch, curled up around
cylindrical pillows at the ends and open both front and back) or covers
for the sleeping lovers.  It was all very satisfying and evocative and good.

Still smiling,
David Evett

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