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For its second opera for the 2022/2023 season, the Vancouver Opera is offering Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a delightful and superbly done production. Conductor Jacques Lacombe and director Aria Umezawa handle the musical, vocal and dramatic parts of the opera with expertise leading to a standing ovation.
Britten shaped the libretto with his partner Peter Pears from Shakespeare’s play by making major cuts but remaining faithful to the remaining text. The editing resulted in presenting three worlds in the opera, each requiring different musical treatment. They judiciously removed the opening scene in Athens and almost all the action takes place in the woods outside the city.
First there is the magic of the fairies with their king Oberon and queen Tytania. Then we have the world of the young lovers escaping the rigours of Athenian law and parental control. They are Demetrius and Hermia, and Helen and Lysander who provide an outpouring of delicious romantic poetry and a deluge of hilarious acrimony. The third world is that of the Athenian artisans who rehearse a play for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta.
Countertenor Daniel Moody and Soprano Magali Simard-Galdes deliver splendid singing as the fighting King and Queen of the Faeries. They argue over a boy that Oberon wants, and he has the ethereal and mischievous Puck to help him wreak havoc among the lovers. The four gorgeous lovers’ quarrels and reconciliations have lyrical poetry and beautiful music that are a delight to the ear. Kudos to tenor Spencer Britten (Lysander), baritone Clarence Frazer (Demetrius), mezzo-soprano Hillary Tufford (Hermia) and soprano Jonelle Sills (Helena). The fight scene is choreographed beautifully by Anna Kuman and done hilariously.
The six artisans who rehearse and put on the story of Pyramus and Thisbe to celebrate the wedding of Theseus (Neil Craighead) and Hippolyta (Stephanie Tritchew) are outstandingly successful. The artisans are Bottom (Peter McGillivray), Flute (Asitha Tennekoon), Quince (Luka Kawabata), Snug (Peter Monaghan) Snout (Ian Cleary) and Starveling (Jason Cook). They deserve collective and individual praise because they are simple and touching people who form a comedy troupe to bring the house down.
McGillivray as Bottom deserves some extra applause for his braggadocio and showmanship. He is turned into an ass and Tytania falls in love with him.
Kunji Ikeda should be charged with theft. He plays the speaking-only-role of the spirit Puck. He is athletic (cartwheels and flips), engages the audience for laughter and can be seen on stage and in the audience at will. He mixes up the lovers and moves at the speed of light. Obviously, director Umezawa deserves the credit for developing the character of Puck for Ikeda to do it. We love him.
The set by Craig Alfredson features diaphanous panels and magical scenes are projected on them. Centerstage consists of a raised platform with a hole in the middle with steps on each side leading to the top. It is turned around as necessary.
Britten’s music represents the ethereal world of the fairies, the romantic music of the lovers and the earthy tone of the artisans. It is not always easy music, but the Vancouver Opera Orchestra does outstanding work. The Children’s Chorus opens the opera with the lovely “Over hill, over dale” and is a pleasure to hear throughout.
The three worlds of the woods finally go to the place where order is established and the artisans perform their outrageous version of Pyramus and Thisbe. Oberon and Tytania are re-united, the lovers are reconciled, Theseus and Hippolyta are married and the artisans score a triumph.
Director Umezawa has done superb work in general and in particular in staging the lovers’ quarrel, the scenes of the artisans and Puck’s delightful activities.
An outstanding production from the Vancouver Opera.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Benjamin Britten opened on February 11 and will be performed on February 16 and 19, 2023 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, 630 Hamilton St. Vancouver, BC.

February 17, 2023

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