A Midsummer Night’s Dream review: The ENO brings out the beauty of Britten’s score | Theatre | Entertainment
The curtain rises to a grass-green stage against a midnight backcloth and cut-out crescent moon.
Green-clad elves draw back the covering from hillocks to reveal two large white pillows, instantly transforming the stage into a giant bed.
It is a delicious opening to an opera that, like Shakespeare’s play, is all about getting people into and out of bed.
First seen at English National Opera in 1995, the production was replaced under ENO’s previous administration in 2011 by a drab effort set, perversely, in a boarding school.
The return of Carsen’s classic staging brings out the vein of humour running through the tale of the trials and confusion of four young lovers during one night in an Athens wood.
Designer Michael Levine’s set changes in size and quantity of beds as the worlds of young lovers, fairies and the town’s “ echanicals” collide.
The quarrel between Oberon and Tytania over a changeling child that Tytania refuses to relinquish is at the centre of the ensuing chaos.
Counter tenor Christopher Ainslie is a commanding presence as Oberon.
Soprano Soraya Mafi, one of five young ENO Harewood Artists in the cast, is bewitching as Tytania.
In the speaking part of Puck, actor Miltos Yerolemou performs acrobatic leaps as he “puts a girdle about the Earth” to do Oberon’s bidding.
The four lovers seeking refuge in the wood quarrel violently before they are released from the spell cast by Puck, with Lysander (David Webb) returning to Clare Presland’s Hermia and Demetrius (Matthew Durkan) now fervently in love with Eleanor Dennis’s Helena.
Tytania is suitably appalled to find she has shared a bed with a donkey, Joshua Bloom as Bottom.
The final Mechanicals’ am-dram play led by the ebullient Bottom as Pyramus is a joy.
English National Opera under conductor Alexander Soddy brings out the elusive beauty of Britten’s score. Not to be missed.
Mozart’s The Marriage Of Figaro is also about people trying to get into bed, or to avoid doing so.
English Touring Opera’s new production, directed by Blanche McIntyre, begins with the singers in present-day clothes changing into costume during the overture.
Then we regress to 18th-century Spain, though the wobbling of designer Neil Irish’s set is a frequent reminder of the make-believe.
Count Almaviva lusts after the Countess’s maid, Susanna, who is marrying the Count’s valet, Figaro.
Pageboy Cherubino has woken up to the joys of sex.
Like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it all takes place in one mad day, though there is a serious side, in that the Count is a real threat to the women he employs.
Ross Ramgobin’s amiable Figaro has a warm baritone.
Rachel Redmond’s silver-toned Susanna combines beautifully in Act 3’s Sull’aria duet with Nadine Benjamin’s lyrical Countess Almaviva.
Katherine Aitken is a perky Cherubino and Dawid Kimberg a predatory Almaviva, though hampered by a towering wig.
ETO’s orchestra under conductor Christopher Stark gives a finely-tuned performance of Mozart’s sublime music.