Saturday, November 12, 2005

Midsummer Night's Dream at IU Opera Theater

I went and read the Peter Jacobi article in the Herald-Times before writing this. He's got something of a reputation for sticking to positive items in his reviews, and if that's true, this opera must have been deeply troubled, since he presents a series of negative comments from the director, even if you have to read between the lines a little to get them. "Lack of stagecraft", "Not enough rehearsal time", "Children may need to be miked", were some of his comments.

All that said, I thought the opera was stunning. Now, when I write reviews, I write them not just of the production, but of the opera. I can't compare this production to the debut at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1960, or even the one at the London Coliseum in 1994. So I wasn't sure if the role of Oberon was always played by a countertenor or if that was just someone's cool idea (it always is) or if Puck is always a ballet dancer who shouts his lines (he shouts, but isn't necessarily a dancer).

And I wasn't blown away by Oberon at first. It took me a while to get used to the rhythm of his lines, but once I did, I thought it fit in perfectly with the beautiful mystic green in the abstract sets and lighting. The fairy costumes were done in modern punk, which was bright and colorful enough to work perfectly with the sets, and the four lovers were dressed in street clothes. Lysander came out in a T-shirt with the name of a fraternity on it, which got a big laugh when Oberon instructed Puck to "Look for a mortal in Athenian dress." (Athenian, fraternities, Greeks, get it?).

Some of the children did have to be miked; of the four majors, I think it was two and two, but that didn't matter. As far as stagecraft, it's certainly been a long-held belief of mine that singers can't act, which has been true here at IU at least. So the fight scene was drab at best. The rude mechanicals weren't bad - I suppose you can tell a good actor by how convincingly he can badly act - and Bottom was pretty good, although my "feel" for the character has always been a bit more boorish.

Of course, that's a judgment on the play. And while I'm at it, I could have happily left after Act 2, because I always feel badly for the mechanicals when everyone makes fun of them. But the music, the countertenor, the costumes, the dancer, in the first two acts, all combined together to make this one of the three or four best operas I've seen at IU. Dreamy.

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