United Kingdom Britten, A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Soloists and Chorus of Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Orchestra of Scottish Opera, Timothy Dean (conductor). King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, 01.2.2013 (SRT)
Oberon – Tom Verney
Tytania – Elinor Rolfe Johnson
Helena – Anush Hovhannisyan
Hermia – Catriona Morison
Lysander – Andreas Backlund
Demetrius – Daniel O’Connor
Puck – Jami Reid-Quarrell
Bottom – Andrew McTaggart
Flute – Rónan Busfield
Olivia Fuchs (director)
Niki Turner (designer)
Bruno Poet/Warren Letton (lighting designer)
Mandy Demetriou (choreographer)
Conveniently timed to coincide with the Britten centenary, this year’s collaboration between Scottish Opera and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland brings a restaging of the Royal Opera (Linbury) production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The SO/Conservatoire collaboration has become an annual event, bringing together the professionals of the orchestra with some student singers and musicians and, like last year’s Betrothal in a Monastery, it highlights some impressive young talent which will hopefully be on the way up.
The cast is led by a superb fairy king and queen. Elinor Rolfe Johnson’s Tytania is a commanding stage presence, and she has the voice to match, combining coloratura lightness with an impressive range and vocal power. Tom Verney was every bit as fine as Oberon, his countertenor sounding natural and magical at the same time. The ethereal quality to his voice suited the character brilliantly and his Act 1 description of Tytania’s bower (I know a bank) was bewitching in its beauty. The sextet of Mechanicals blended successfully and were characterised effectively, led by an attractively bumptious Bottom in Andrew McTaggart, who sang the role with complete musicality, never slipping into mere farce or parody. Rónan Busfield, who so impressed me in Betrothal, sang Flute with the right mix of dignity and parody, and his Thisbe was the highlight of the final act.
The quartet of lovers was a little less successful. Anush Hovhannisyan was a powerful, well characterised Helena, and Daniel O’Connor grew successfully into the role of Demetrius as the evening progressed. Catriona Morison’s Hermia was less distinguished in comparison, though, and Andreas Backlund’s Lysander was embarrassingly slight in comparison, especially in the first act.
Arguably, however, the star performance of the night came from the only non-singing role. Jami Reid-Quarrell’s sensational Puck stole the show every time he appeared. His acrobatics were a thing to marvel at, especially his aerial rope work which, among other things, provided an entrancing accompaniment to both Oberon’s Act 1 monologue and the final bars of the second act. The physicality of his performance enlivened each scene and just about avoiding upstaging the singers on stage.
I couldn’t love the rest of Olivia Fuchs’ bland production, though; dark and uninteresting without variety or appeal. The set consists of a few chairs and shelves on which the various characters fall asleep, but the lack of variety or convincing use of the props made the staging seem bland and static, not helped by some video projections that added nothing. The chamber-sized ensemble of Scottish Opera sounded great, though, led ably by Timothy Dean. The kaleidoscopic yet precise nature of Britten’s orchestration is perhaps the most important and interesting thing about this opera and everything that came from the pit, be it jingling celesta or comical trombone, enriched immeasurably what was happening on stage.