Benjamin Britten’s setting of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an outstanding achievement. In Australia, we have experienced two exceptional productions, and early next year there will be a third to be enjoyed.
The first was in 1978, directed by Elijah Moshinsky. Designed by Timothy O’Brien and Tazeena Firth, it was a stark and menacing view of the opera but also startlingly beautiful. The fairies were depicted as English choir boys in grubby surplices, their ruffs askew. Perhaps the strongest image was of Oberon played by marvellous English countertenor, James Bowman, bare-chested and painted blue soaring above all on a swing. It was unexpectedly successful with the public.
The next production was in 1993, directed by Baz Luhrmann. While utterly different, it also became a landmark success for the company. Set in Victorian India, an impressive bandstand in a lush garden housed the chamber-sized orchestra, the fairies depicted as small Hindu spirits. It was a great favourite both here and at the Edinburgh Festival.
Now, a production with an Australian creative team of Neil Armfield and Dale Ferguson, which has been a success in Houston, Chicago and Toronto, will at last be seen in the Adelaide Festival from 26 February. Armfield, also Director of the Festival, has gathered a splendid cast. Production photos indicate a more conventionally pretty, if abstract, setting; the fairies even have little wings. See what fools these mortals be!
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