Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review: Seattle Opera's Young Artists Program in Britten's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

Rozarii Lynch photo

The Seattle Opera presented Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Saturday, March 28th at the Meydenbauer Center Theatre in Bellevue, WA. Directed by Peter Kazaras, this was a presentation of SO’s Young Artists Program. The emerging singers responded ably to the challenges inherent in Britten’s work, even if on occasion the acting and other aspects of the overall production fell somewhat short of the mark.

The setting was a classroom in a British school, a somewhat vague and visually uninteresting backdrop. Two large white walls with some doors and windows bookended a few pieces of furniture, and aside from a platform at the back of the stage this was the sum of the set. The costumes proved by and large pedestrian as well, the most interesting ones being Helena’s bright blue dress and the ass-head worn by Nick Bottom. A feast for the eyes it certainly was not, and this proved disappointing in that Shakespeare’s work is a fantasy and therefore presents a much greater opportunity for whimsy. Drab school uniforms and khaki suits are somehow out of place in a story about the king and queen of the fairies. Connie Yun’s lighting was imaginative: whether immersing the audience in the soft blues of twilight or simulating the glorious brilliance of an early summer morning exploding through the windows, the lighting took on greater significance in alleviating the monotony of the set.

It seemed to take a while for the principals to warm up to their roles. While the singing was nuanced and thoughtfully delivered from the start, the acting was sometimes stilted and wooden, with the exceptions of Michelle Trovato’s Helena and the merry band of players presenting the ‘play within a play.’ Perhaps this was a result of having to concentrate on the harmonic and rhythmic difficulties of the music. Whatever the reason, about halfway through the second act the facial expressions, interactions, and blocking took on new life, as though the singers suddenly became more comfortable with the non-musical aspects of the production.

Brian Garman’s orchestra played well: always together and very balanced both with each other and with the singers, not easy tasks in challenging music such as this. Soprano Emily Hindrich’s Tytania was languorous, sensual and a bit mysterious: very befitting a fairy queen. She has a powerful voice that tended to dominate too much in the duets with Oberon, sung by countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo. It would have been easy for Britten to make Oberon a booming baritone (but he didn’t,) and once the ball was rolling Costanzo managed to project an aura of power and vague menace when necessary despite singing in the upper reaches of the male voice. The scene wherein Oberon and Tytania are reconciled and engage in a stately Elizabethan dance was particularly arresting.

Michelle Trovato’s Helena was spot-on and engaging from the start; she was consistently the most animated and interesting of the main characters. Baritone Michael Krzankowski as Demetrius was also warm and persuasive in the latter portion, and there was a gentle, unforced effervescence to his singing. Although they sang well enough, I was never entirely convinced by tenor Bray Wilkins’ Lysander or mezzo Elizabeth Pojanowski’s Hermia.

The group of working men putting on a play about Pyramus and Thisby deserves special mention. To be the comic relief in an otherwise comic production presents a special challenge, and they achieved this without devolving overmuch into slapstick (although it was used to good effect on occasion.) Baritone Jeffrey Madison, who sang the role of Nick Bottom (and the ass) really stole the show, not only with a beautiful, redolent baritone, ringing even at the lowest registers, but also with his fearless bombast and excellent comedic timing. Also worth noting is tenor Alex Mansoori, whose role as Flute (and in drag as Thisby) was warm and charming. While Madison was the principal in this second group, all of the singers portraying the workmen seemed to understand their roles, and delivered with gusto. Puck was a non-singing role, and actor David S. Hogan, über-hip and sporting a faux-hawk, did his job well. With oddly hypnotic physicality and over-the-top impishness, he was a good fellow to play Robin.

Despite some flaws this was a very enjoyable evening, and those who love Shakespeare, Britten or comic opera in general should find it well worth the time. This performance will repeat at the same location on March 29th (matinee) and April 3rd through 5th.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I disagree with about 40 percent of this review.