I went to see the performance on the 24th. I’ll start with the composition of the opera itself. I have to confess that modern compositions are not my favorite genre of music. In this opera, the music sounded dissonant and disjointed. I’m not saying it has to have a recognizable theme, but I barely even recognized phrases within the music. Granted, it fit well with the dreamlike sense of the play, but it didn’t fit at all with the fact that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy. Furthermore, I understand that in opera sometimes phrases are drawn out, but considering that Shakespeare included so much meter in his plays, I find this a waste of good rhythm. Surely some of it could have been used in the opera. Regarding this specific interpretation, it was set in the 60s, starring Robin Goodfellow, poolboy and stoner, who dreamt he became Puck, Tytania as a yoga instructor, and Oberon as a pro golfer. This began promisingly, but I wish the 60s setting had been more integrated with the rest of the play. It was solidly set in the 60s for the first five minutes, and then it transitioned permanently into Fairyland when Tytania and Oberon stopped being a yoga teacher and a golfer, respectively. From then on, that theme was never properly carried through the show. Any references to the 60s from then on were random, like the thirty-second scene in which the players consumed some mushrooms and hallucinated, or the scene in which the fairies appeared to Bottom as garden gnomes. I also think I should mention here that I was very confused about why the pageboy, the one that sparked Tytania and Oberon’s entire spat, seemed to be a Nataraja, which is a Hindu idol. Figurines with significance like this one, if used at all, should be used very deliberately, cautiously, and sparingly as props. When Tytania was a yoga teacher, this use made sense, because yoga often makes use of similar cultural items, but for the rest of the opera, I could see no particular (comedic) reason the Nataraja was appropriate to use there, except for the fact that the pageboy was “stolen from an Indian king,” which to me is not enough of a justification for then seeing that idol carted about like a teddy bear for the rest of the opera.
As always, though, the performers themselves did a fantastic job. Puck, I firmly believe, was born for comedic opera, and he did a fantastic job managing the interpretation he was given (I personally couldn’t quite reconcile the stoner persona with Puck’s inherent shrewdness). I loved Tytania’s voice: I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about it was wonderful to listen to. It felt, perhaps, warmer than the timbre I’m used to hearing in opera. Helena also had a lovely voice, wonderfully suited to opera. I think Lysander acted really well, which was good especially because it balanced out the fact that Hermia was looking at the conductor far too obviously. The one thing I wish they had done was to really utilize every comedic opportunity the play provided: even I noticed several they didn’t use, and I’m not particularly experienced with this play. However, Bottom, Flute, and the rest of the players did a fantastic job. Pyramus and Thisby was the only part of the play in which I thought that every comedic opportunity was properly taken advantage of. The audience barely stopped laughing here: when the lion’s tail was a flyswatter and its mane had macaroni glued to it; when Flute casually strolled over to a barbecue and used ketchup to stain his shirt; when Flute and Bottom used a spatula as the weapon Thisby and Pyramus used to kill themselves; when the Moon wore a colander strung with fairy lights on his head; when the Wall was drunk by the time the play ended. Finally, the set design was beautiful. The moving set was a brilliant idea: all the performers had to do was roll the trees over slightly to the side to change the scene. I’ve also never seen such use of texture. The trees were done in relief, and the light gave them beautiful shadows; the steps looked like weathered stone, and the grass was made of false topiary.
Overall, I was not a huge fan of the way the opera was written. I wish I knew a bit more about the intent behind the interpretation, because I’m sure that I would think very differently about the production if I knew what kinds of thought went into it. But as always, I remain impressed with the calibre of work that SMTD students are capable of.