Long for the days of Summer’s innocence

Lucky number three. Three ravishing productions have been performed at the London Coliseum from the English National Opera’s (ENO) Spring 2018 programme. It seems that the quality of the ENO’s productions are proving consistent and worth complimenting. The third of which I saw on its press night (on Thursday) on a week that had been heavily affected by snow storms and Siberian winds under the alias ‘The Beast from the East.’ Luckily for the audience inside the London Coliseum, it was warmer and rosier with its sweet and playful portrayal of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Benjamin Britten – English National Opera, The Trinity Boys Choir (by Robert Workman)

For a first-timer, I was mighty impressed. The ENO is no stranger to Robert Carsen’s production, though. It was first shown in 1991 at the Aix-en-Provence Festival and has enjoyed praise internationally from as far as La Scala to Beijing. It was revived in 2004 and now returns back to the London Coliseum with Carsen’s associate and revival director Emmanuelle Bastet.

It is the same complex Shakespearean play, following the antics of Athenian lovers, the rustics and the fairies, but just cut in half. Britten and librettist Peter Pears did their best to stay faithful to the Bard’s text and faced little difficulty given the narrative’s own textual music.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Benjamin Britten, 2018, Puck – Miltos Yerolemou (Photo by Robert Workman)

Michael Levine (ENO productions: The Magic Flute, Between Worlds) dresses the stage in green and blue, with a bright white crescent moon looking down on the earthy creatures. A green land with the biggest and fluffiest beds are prepared for Tytania’s fairies to run around and for the young lovers to sleep and dream in.

The only non-operatic role goes to Miltos Yerolemou (screen role includes Syrio Forel from Game of Thrones) who has performed the role of Puck for the last decade. As an animated and highly-energised Puck he strategies successfully, and unsuccessfully, with all characters from the three worlds. Miltos does a tremendous job keeping everyone’s attention and thoroughly entertains the entire auditorium.

Andri Björn Róbertsson, Emma Carrington, Eleanor Dennis, David Webb, Clare Presland and Matthew Durkan (Photo by Robert Workman)

Britten’s score is lush, filled with colourful qualities. For example, Britten allocates music for percussion instruments and harps just for the fairies. Britten’s little motifs and cute tuneful references are not missed out by Germany and Austria-based conductor Alexander Soddy. He made his ENO debut through the production, but he is well-versed in Britten’s work. The ENO orchestra also performs with panache and keep the music fresh and easy to love.

Not to be confused with a dance performance, but there are some rich choreographies in the show. It is required in particular musical scenes, which were handled with care by Matthew Bourne (Swan Lake, Carmen, The Car Man) in the original revival show. You can see this the most through Bottom, Starveling, Snout, Flute, and Snug as they tell the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe in Theseus’s wedding.

Timothy Robinson – Snout/ Joshua Bloom – Bottom, ENO – Midsummer Night’s Dream (Photo by Robert Workman)

Then there are the numerous bold and daring voices to congratulate. The Trinity Boys Choir were brisk and bubbly in their green jackets and blue wigs as Tytania’s little minions. Five members of the ENO’s Harewood Artists Programme are cast here including Soraya Mafi (Tytania), David Webb (Lysander), Matthew Durkan (Demetrius), Eleanor Dennis (Helena) and Andri Björn Róbertsson (Theseus). It’s encouraging to know that 15 principal roles have been given to ENO Harewood Artists for the 2017/2018 season.

Mafi’s vocal performances is exceptional and enjoyable, just like her last performance as Mabel at last year’s revival of The Pirates of Penzance. She consistently gets better each time I see her. Her Tytania is tough, yet tender and romantic for the eyes of her Bottom with an ass’s head. Joshua Bloom’s Bottom is amusing and sung with great depth and oomph. It’s easy to be fond of his zany character. Robert Murray as Francis Flute is also fun as he sings the role of Thisbe with a high pitch.

Robert Murray as Francis Flute (Robert Workman)

Robert Murray as Francis Flute by (Photo by Robert Workman)

Countertenor Christopher Ainslie’s Oberon is vocally delightful with his starry depiction of the king of fairies. Sensational young soloists Matthew Durkan, Eleanor Dennis, Clare Presland and David Webb, as Demetrius, Helena, Hermia and Lysander, create a romantic air of young Athenian lovers trying it keep it together given the unexplainable circumstances. The tale of who loves who and why they love them remain intact through their promising acting skills. Together they maintain the light humour and jealousy love games, making up a charming group of girls and boys who fight, forgive and make up on the days of Summer’s innocence.

That leaves Andri Björn Róbertsson, Emma Carrington, Simon Butteriss, Timothy Robinson and Jonathan Lemalu who may have smaller roles, but add much character and wonderful singing and acting in the final scenes. Staying true to Shakespeare’s original play, here’s an opera that will make you long for the days of summer, and the stuff of magic and innocence.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is showing for 6 performances including the 4th, 8th, 10th, 14th and 15th March.

For more information and to book tickets now, click here. 

(I was given a press ticket for the press night.)

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