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15.1.07

Britten Operas on DVD, Part 3

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Britten, A Midsummer Night's Dream, staging by Robert Carsen, David Daniels, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Harry Bicket (recorded in 2005, DVD release on January 24, 2006)
The only competition on DVD for the evergreen Glyndebourne production of Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream is this 2006 release from Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu (filmed by François Roussillon in 2005), a revival of the colorful, strange staging Robert Carsen did in 1995 for the Aix-en-Provence Festival. (The production has also been seen, more than once, at English National Opera.) Carsen places the action in a dreamworld, quite literally: the entire stage looks like a large bed, with bright green covers and two enormous white pillows. Oberon (David Daniels) and Tytania (Ofelia Sala) are costumed for bed -- Oberon in green pajamas and robe and Tytania in a blue silk nightie. Their hair matches the color of their costumes.

The crescent moon shines on a deep blue background, and the "changeling child" that has come between the Fairy King and Queen is shown as a nurseling clasped to Tytania's breast. At one point, light shines onto the bed from the wings looking exactly like the light coming from the hallway into a child's bedroom. There's trouble in this marriage, as the little baby sleeps in the bed with Tytania, superseding Oberon who seeks revenge. When Tytania is asleep, he places the magic flower's essence on her eyes and steals away with the precious red bundle. Come to think of it, the flower is a rather vaginal red lily. Hmm...

The theme of marriage also appears with the four human lovers who get lost in this fairy world, but this time in its impending form, as white costumes that recall wedding gowns and suits. (The green of Oberon's kingdom rubs off on the hair, skin, and perfect white clothing of the lovers, the longer they are there, like grass stains.) Children dominate Britten's score, of course, in the fairy chorus, here the fine Escolania de Montserrat costumed as little munchkin men, with blue mustaches and hair, red gloves, blue vests, green waistcoats like little servants. Puck (Emil Wolk), a role for speaker, here is no child but an aged, loony version of the child fairies, his costume in rags. He makes his first appearance flashing the fairy chorus from inside his trenchcoat.

Act III begins with Oberon strolling through the front of the house, with the baby in his arms. The three mismatched couples float eerily above the stage on beds. As their illusions are undone, the beds descend to the stage. This scene could not suit the oscillating, plangent score better. When Tytania and Oberon are reunited, they dump the baby off with Puck and embrace before heading off stage. For the most part, this crazy production can hang together, but as with many productions of this kind, there are elements that do not fit. For example, the Rude Mechanicals rehearse in a dormitory of double beds, for no apparent reason. In general, the acting troupe seems part of another opera altogether in this production. However, in the final scene, which can often seem like something tacked onto the fairy portion of the play, the play enacted by the Rude Mechanicals is a delight of goofy costumes and silliness. In particular, the Wall's costume has the chink, through which Pyramus and Thisbe speak and kiss, located right at the actor's ass level. This reveals the joke in Thisbe's line, "My lips have touched the wall's hole," in a way that was new to me.

This is the more interesting production of the two DVD versions, although it will certainly not please the purist viewer. The singing is quite good, Daniels and Sala especially, but the sound captured is not always of high quality. (Washington readers would remember tenor Gordon Gietz, who does a fine job as Lysander, from his appearance as Stingo in Sophie's Choice last fall.) The Glyndebourne version has the better singing overall, by a hair, in the excellent children's chorus and most of the roles. Which one you would choose to buy would say a lot about your tastes in how opera is interpreted.

Virgin Classics DVD 3392029

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