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'Midsummer' Music from the BSO

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Mendelssohn, Ein Sommernachtstraum, La Chapelle Royale, Collegium Vocale Gent, Orchestre des Champs-Elysées, P. Herreweghe
(Harmonia Mundi, 2012)
In the past year A Midsummer Night's Dream has appeared in these pages in many different guises: in the opera by Benjamin Britten, in the ballet by Frederick Ashton, soon in a different ballet by George Balanchine, and even in its original version by Shakespeare. This week the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop are getting in on the fairy game, with a semi-staged, abridged version of the play accompanied by the ethereal overture and incidental music of Felix Mendelssohn, heard last night in the Music Center at Strathmore. The idea is not exactly new, but it brings to mind many possibilities for opportunities to revive rarely performed scores of incidental music with the plays they were composed to accompany: Goethe's Egmont (Beethoven), Shakespeare's The Tempest (Sibelius), Ibsen's Peer Gynt (Grieg), Alphonse Daudet's L'Arlésienne (Bizet), or Aristophanes' The Wasps (Vaughan Williams). A theater with an orchestra pit would be the ideal venue, making it possible to combine an actual production of the play with a space for the orchestra to perform the complete score.

The BSO provided an exquisite performance of Mendelssohn's score, in spite of being arranged toward the back of the stage and with sections of the orchestra separated from one another in unusual ways. This allowed the woodwinds to be at the front of the center part of the orchestra for a change, to create a central playing space around Alsop's podium, but it also created a few balance issues between the violins and the lower strings far away. Even so, as with last week's concert, the BSO was in top form, again especially the violins who were feather-light on the many filigree passages, even the ultra-fast Scherzo, and a top-notch horn solo in the Nocturne. The women of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society provided an evanescent background in the choral numbers, especially "Ye spotted snakes," with fine solo work from airy-voiced soprano Ying Fang and the more robust mezzo-soprano of Julie Boulianne.

Other Articles:

Tim Smith, Baltimore Symphony, Folger Theatre present vivid 'Midsummer Night's Dream' (Baltimore Sun, May 31)

Joan Reinthaler, 'Midsummer Night's Dream' with music at Folger Theatre (Washington Post, May 31)

Rebecca Ritzel, BSO and Folger collaborate on unique staging of ‘Midsummer’ (Washington Post, May 28)

Marin Alsop's Guide to Mendelssohn's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' (NPR, May 24)
A group of seven actors, several of them regulars at the Folger Theater and each taking more than one role, gave an impression of Shakespeare's play, heavily excerpted and sewn together with a rather unfortunate narration. It was not the ideal solution, but it worked well enough and kept the focus on the musical score, most of which was performed without any theatrical business at the same time to distract from it. John Bolger was a strangely non-menacing Oberon, all hunched over, which made Linda Powell's Titania even more spiteful by comparison. With Spencer Aste's Puck not all that memorable either, it was easy for the four lovers and Rude Mechanicals, especially the gangling Helena and monotone Snout of Kate Eastwood Norris, to steal the show. Edward Berkeley's minimal staging featured a few atmospheric lighting plans (designed by Donald Thomas), and some branches, with colored lights, suspended from the ceiling gave the sense of the enchanted forest.

This performance repeats tonight and tomorrow, at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore.

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