We look in wonderment at one of ENO’s best productions yet of this classic modern masterpiece.
Alexander Soddy strides into the orchestra pit, waves and encourages his team, and then there is silence for a full five seconds. And then we are off! And its a strange, curious, beginning…
This is redolent of the performance of Wagner’s ”The Mastersingers” a few years earlier; the feeling somehow that this will be the epic performance – when everything goes right. That night, at the end of five hours, all the orchestra hugged each other at the finale. And so it was last night. From whatever opera or music background you come from, this is a performance you have to see.
The secret sauce of this production is the fluidity, sensibility, and sheer forcefulness and continuation of the orchestra – which allows the drama to experiment, to be funny, aggressive, romantic, and convey sincere emotion – without ever losing sight of the fact that essentially, this opera is a dream.
The whole stage is one giant bed. The production relies on the singers/actors/actresses hopping from bed to stage, from awake to asleep, from fantasy to reality. The melodic lines of the music never give away anything you can hum along to, no nice chord progressions and cadences; there is this sense of being suspended somewhere and indeed the third act is precisely that – the three beds suspended in mid air.
And then there is the humour which is less rather than more, – subtle at its best. My standout performance was Eleanor Dennis as Helena, very similar to Mary Bevan some years earlier, also a former Harewood Artist.
But this is to be picky; all of the singing, the characterisation, the direction, was spot on, an integrated whole. Sometimes, particularly at the end of the second act, the drama and clever direction took your breath away
The humour reached its peak at the finale. This was the nearest we got to traditional Shakespeare productions and slapstick humour. It reminded me of the last time I saw this, in Devon – just a couple of years ago.
The difference here – is that the music adds the extra dimension, at times searing, to force the drama.
And then Puck wraps it up… we are back to the original Shakespeare lines…
Was I dreaming? I have no idea. But I am still rubbing my eyes. I can’t believe it.