March 28th, 2009


A Midsummer Night's Dream in Bellevue, 3/27/09

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Seattle Opera's Young Artist Program - March 27, 2009

Theatre at Meydenbauer Center, Bellevue

Puck - David S. Hogan
Tytania - Megan Hart
Oberon - Anthony Roth Costanzo
Lysander - Bray Wilkins
Hermia - Elizabeth Pojanowski
Demetrius - Michael Krzankowski
Helena - Vira Slywotzky
Quince - Jonathan Silva
Snug - Thomas Forde
Starveling - Marc-Antoine d'Aragon
Flute - Alex Mansoori
Snout - Marcus Shelton
Bottom - Jeffrey Madison
Theseus - Jeffrey Beruan
Hippolyta - Margaret Gawrysiak
Peaseblossom - Staffan Hellman
Cobweb - Kevin Beall
Mustardseed - Aaron Smith
Moth - Elijah Ostrow
Fairies - Bronwyn James, Cecilia Lewis, Brandon Root, Jack Sbragia

Conductor - Brian Garman
Director - Peter Kazaras
Sets - Donald Eastman
Costumes - Heidi Ganser
Lighting - Connie Yun

I first became a fan of Benjamin Britten's work from a Met opera broadcast of Billy Budd, and later, the Colin Davis/Jon Vickers recording of Peter Grimes. I enjoyed those operas for their uncompromising drama and thrilling choral moments. And so, when I first heard A Midsummer Night's Dream, I found it a disappointment. There were no big moments to be found. The music itself sounded weird to me: nothing at all like Britten's big operas, and even unlike the smaller-scale works like Turn of the Screw and Death in Venice.

However, like many operas that I initially disliked upon first hearing them, actually seeing it onstage turned me around on the subject. (It also helps that I've gotten more and more used to countertenor voices--helpful as Oberon, the countertenor role, probably has the largest singing role in the work.)

This was the first opera I've seen at the Theatre at Meydenbauer Center, and I must say that I loved the venue. The theatre is tiny: around 400 seats, all on one level, and all of them with good views of the stage: perfect for a chamber-sized opera like Midsummer Night's Dream. The conceit of the production is that it takes place at a British public school--a conceit which mostly works, as the rigid social structure of Britain mirrors how the human and fairy characters do not interact (with the notable exceptions of Tytania and Bottom). It didn't *completely* work, as I don't quite buy Oberon and Tytania as senior students (or perhaps they were supposed to be burlesques of Prince William and Kate Middleton?).

Of the singers: Anthony Roth Costanzo (winner of this year's Metropolitan Opera auditions) was a standout: his clear, pure countertenor had no discernible difficulty with the music, and his Oberon has a princely disregard for others. Megan Hart as Tytania was full of pique, and in her scenes with Bottom, tenderness. Bray Wilkins' tenor seems a natural for Britten, with a plangent tone and clear diction: one could imagine him as a future Quint or Vere. Vira Slywotzky brought a huge soprano, and a lot of energy, to the role of Helena. Elizabeth Pojanowski's performance was on a smaller scale at first, but she rose to the occasion in her scenes of anger against Helena and the men. Michael Krzankowski had a powerful baritone, but did sing quite sweetly in the Act III reawakening.

The "mechanicals" were very funny and sung quite well, although Jeffrey Madison's working-class English accent was laid on a little thick: I must admit that Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins came to mind more than once. Still, the Pyramus and Thisby play resulted in the most terrific gales of laughter I have ever heard in an opera. In the walk-on roles of Theseus and Hippolyta, Jeffrey Beruan and Margaret Gawrysiak made a vivid portrait of rulers that are indulgent to the foibles of others. Beruan's bass was particularly forceful and incisive: of Britten roles, one could imagine him as a future John Claggart.

The fairy children were quite delightful and managed quite well with Britten's difficult music and Shakespeare's difficult words, while at the same time, moving the drama along. To single out one in particular, Elijah Ostrow was very funny as Moth, as his solo moments were cut off before they could happen (resulting in a silent slow burn).

The orchestra consisted of members of the Auburn Symphony, conducted by Brian Garman, who managed very well with Britten's sinuous, dreamlike music.

There are six performances total of this production, through Sunday, April 5th. In some performances, Tytania will be played by Emily Hindrichs, Helena by Michelle Trovato, and Hippolyta by Rose Beattie.

It was a great night in the theatre. I may go see it again.