The Opera Blues

April 17, 2010 at 12:21 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , )

That’s what I have right now—the opera blues. Last night, I watched Benjamin Britten’s opera version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed in 1981 at London’s Glyndebourne Festival with Ileana Cotrubas and James Bowman as Tytania and Oberon. Okay, “watched” is not accurate, because I had to fast forward through most of it. I just had to. I couldn’t take it.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m no opera buff. But I’ve seen three operas performed live, and I like the spectacle and the music. I found this opera really difficult to watch. And it’s 2.5 long hours long. L-O-N-G.

I’ll fault the fairies… Oberon, mainly. He sings in a “countertenor” which means a very high voice. It was really weird for me. The fairies are very weird in general. They look like they’re straight out of Star Trek. I just couldn’t get into it.

This opera is sung in English, but I could not understand much of it, so I put the subtitles on (when I wasn’t fast forwarding). It follows Shakespeare pretty closely, although it skips over the whole first part of the play and shoots us straight into the forest. The colors are very muted, with everything shimmery-silver as if moonlit. The trees are played by humans, and it’s a bit of a shock to realize that, as it’s not obvious at first. The forest has a very other-worldly feel.

Other than Tytania and Oberon, the fairies are played by children. Puck (Damien Nash) is a child with flaming red hair (it literally looks like a flame) and he speaks his lines with a Cockney accent. He is impish and good in the role.

I enjoyed the rude mechanicals in this version. Bottom (Curt Appelgren) fits my image of the quintessential ass, and their version of Pyramus and Thisby is very homespun and funny.

I’d be interested to hear from any opera buffs; maybe I just don’t get it. Personally, I would not rush out to see this performed live.

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