Welcome to the world of glow-in-the-dark trees, psychedelic fairies, and deceptively atonal music: The Oberlin Opera Theater's production of Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, based on the Shakespeare play.
The plot revolves around three events: the quarrel between Oberon and Tytania over a little Indian boy; the flight of two sets of lovers to the woods to escape an unwanted marriage; and the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, the Amazon Queen. Oberon's enchantments and Puck's mischief create complications that are finally resolved after comic fusion.
Under the direction of Judith Layng and Michael Morgan, OC'79, the two-hour and 45-minute performance opera proved to be a hit among the majority of those in attendance.
It was a vocally strong performance with roles ranging from the high soprano to the basso stupido. Derek Lee Ragin OC'80 brought his counter-t¡enor expertise to the role of Oberon, a role he had first sung in Oberlin's 1980 performance of the same opera. Sophomore Magda Rodriguez as Tytania was admirable in her coloratura passages. The roles of Lysander and Hermia, played by David Miller OC'95 and Double-degree junior Vanessa de Merode were particularly charming in their duet "I swear to thee." The funniest (and most violent) couple was portrayed by Double-degree junior Maleata Carson and junior David Moore. The vocalization was strong as it complemented their gracious acting. Senior Nichola Mayes and Scott Hogsed OC'95 as Theseus and Hippolyta were also charming as the hosts of the play.
Plot-wise, the first and second acts creep along, and could have been enhanced by inventive staging. Costume and lighting design were original and one could not help being charmed by the hippie-reminiscent fairies and elves (complete with head bands and tie-dye outfits). Double-degree senior Alison Ostergaard as Puck provided many Shakespearean punchlines during the slow plot-runs.
The third act was by far the funniest, most entertaining part of the opera. In it, the rustics rehearse an adaptation of Pyramus and Thisby in the woods. Double-degree senior Oren Gradus as Quince assigns roles to his comrades respective of their personalities. Bottom, played by senior Andrew Nolen, is assigned the role of Pyramus. Flute, played by Double-degree junior Waldo Gonzalez, is to transform himself into the femme fatale role of Thisby. Snout (sophomore Daniel Paget), Starveling (first-year Dan Okulitch) and Snug (junior Shawn Charton) are assigned the roles of the wall, the moon and the lion. Together, they create a fantastic comical atmosphere. Gradus's, Gonzalez's and Nolen's vocal performances were particularly stunning.
Despite the wonderful performances given by the cast, the opera suffered a case of trite staging and unimaginative choreography. The fairies and elves were sound and entertaining, vocally. Bodily freedom seemed a problem for them, however. In general, their gesticulations were stiff and inhibited.
The orchestra under the direction of Maestro Michael Morgan could have fared better. Although the opera was composed in the 20th century, that is no excuse for the pitch vagrancies present in the strings during the third act. In general, their presence was more like that of incidental music than of a collaborative musical effort. The dynamic energy level in general did not complement that of the singers nor of the conductor.
But let us not be hindered by a slightly faulty orchestral performance. The opera was indeed an experience in psychedelic British classical music and an effort in bringing Shakespeare's comedy to life in 20th-century terms.
Don't look a gift horse in the mouth: Andrew Nolen '96 and Magda Rodrigues '98 contemplate the pro and cons of fairie magic(photo by John Seyfried)
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 18; March 15, 1996
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