Opera North Swings into the Sixties with Britten’s Dream

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Benjamin Britten: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1960): Sung in English with subtitles. Soloists, Children’s Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North/ Stuart Stratford (conductor), The Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays, Salford, 6.11.2013.

Sung in English with subtitles.

Oberon: James Laing, (countertenor).
Tytania: Jeni Bern, (soprano).
Helena: Sky Ingram, (soprano).
Hermia: Kathryn Rudge, (mezzo-soprano).
Lysander: Andrew Glover, (tenor).
Demetrius: Quirijn de Lang, (bass-baritone).
Flute: Nicholas Sharratt, (tenor).
Bottom: Darren Jeffery, (bass baritone).
Theseus: Dean Robinson, (bass).
Hipolyta: Yvonne Howard (mezzo soprano)
Puck: Daniel Abelson, (Spoken role).
Director: Martin Duncan.
Set Designer: Johan Engels.


Opera North’s Festival of Britten arrived in Salford with this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was first seen in 2008. It not the easiest opera to stage on a budget. The costumes relocate Britten’s Shakespearian opera to the swinging sixties, allowing some amusing and near vulgar moments of trouser dropping! This set design of large corrugated translucent plastic sheets, of varying widths, being flown as required to give more or less stage space being the dominant feature. Add large pendulous plastic avoids between layers of the plastic sheets and you might be tempted to think I am describing a factory, but this is not the case. With imaginative lighting giving changes of hue, the addition of a bed, costumes that varying from classic to hippy and the stage was set for what is, as I note above, not the easiest work to bring off in a meaningful manner for an audience.

The only quibble I have with the costumes, and it is one I have highlighted before in respect of an Opera North production, is the matter of flashing lights on susceptible members of the audience. In an era that every news bulletin on television gives a warning of flash photography, the reflecting lights off Oberon and Tatyana’s costumes into the audience space was very pronounced. Set and costume designers should learn about these matters. They could be serious if the effects were to induce convulsions in a member of the audience; the consequences could have legal consequences or even be life-threatening!

On the singing and orchestral front everything was  excellent. Yes, James Laing’s Oberon was somewhat weak in volume whilst his partner was not in best voice, but  these matters were more than compensated for elsewhere. It was good to notice that the difference in physical stature between Helena and Herminia was observed. As important, both singers were outstanding in voice and acting. I have observed Kathryn Rudge’s development since her student days at the RNCM. The maturity of her acted and sung interpretations goes on ahead at a pace in a wide variety of repertoire, and it cannot be too long before major opera venues addresses come calling; she is a major talent. Australian Sky Ingram, just out from the National Opera Studio, is another quality voice and actress to be watched. All this is not to forget the men, with both crossed lovers, Quirijn de Lang and Andrew Glover presenting impressive interpretations and Darren Jeffery, imposing in stature as the ass despite a non-too convincing face. Nicholas Sharratt, another RNCM alumni was Flute, who while not looking brilliant in shorts, his plangent tone had plenty of the character in it. In the cameo roles of Hipolyta, and the Duke of Athens Yvonne Howard and Dean Robinson were class voices.

The performance was made more memorable by the contributions of, Daniel Abelson as a scampering Puck, and the children’s chorus with their wings and costumes fitting the bill to perfection along with their singing.

Robert J Farr

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