Daniel Moody as Oberon &
Magalie Simard-Galdes as Tytania
Photo: Tim Matheson


Vancouver Opera
Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night's Dream

When & Where February 11 & 16, 2023 at 7.30pm and February 19 at 2pm | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Oberon Daniel Moody, countertenor Tytania Magali Simard-Galdes, soprano Lysander Spencer Britten, tenor Hermia Hillary Tufford, mezzo soprano Demetrius Clarence Frazer, baritone Helena Jonelle Sills, soprano Bottom Peter McGillivray, baritone Puck Kunji Ikeda, non-singing role

Conductor Jacques Lacombe Director Aria Umezawa Set Design Craig Alfredson Projection Design Sammy Chien Costume Design Roberta Doylend Lighting Design Sophie Tang Choreography Anna Kuman Stage Manager Theresa Tsang

Sung in English with English surtitles

Reviewer John Jane

It’s difficult to imagine that Vancouver Opera’s full scale production of A Midsummer Night's Dream was originally conceived as a chamber opera. Written by Benjamin Britten a good three and a half centuries after William Shakespeare’s complex comedy, it’s a little surprising therefore that Britten decided to stick with Elizabethan language for his libretto. It’s perhaps understandable why, when you hear how lyrically the language fits the score. For a change, I found myself watching what was happening on stage instead of frequently looking at the SurtitlesTM to catch the English translation.

I’ve generally found Benjamin Britten’s discordant melodies enjoyable while one is listening, but doesn’t leave much to take with you after you leave the theatre. I still feel the same way after Dream, but at least Britten’s evocative score totally fits the story. The sensuous orchestrations for the lovers’ duets are especially satisfying. While Dream lacks the requisite showpiece arias, the synthesis of countertenor Daniel Moody and soprano Magali Simard-Galdes was indeed compelling. Ms. Simard-Galdes was particularly striking as Tytania, the Fairy Queen.

Dream is very much an ensemble work and Vancouver Opera have put together a talented company that includes a remarkable children’s chorus as the fairy cortege. However, there is a standout performance from baritone Peter McGillivray who is appropriately outrageous as Nick Bottom. His physical comedy is perfectly timed and executed. The early second act totally belongs to Bottom, with some help from Puck who turns him into an ass. Professional dancer Kunji Ikeda turns in a brilliant athletic performance in the non-singing role of Puck who manages to steal every scene he is in.

The Quartet of Lovers: Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena, played by Spencer Britten, Hillary Tufford, Clarence Frazer and Jonelle Sills respectively are neither mystical woodlanders nor comic relief, but really normal characters that the audience can perhaps best relate to.

Production elements are high quality. Craig Alfredson’s single set of a tree-less forest is simple and effective. Roberta Doylend’s costumes offer interesting contradictions between the modern duds of the tradesmen, the stylish apparel of the lovers and the imaginative woodland clothing.

I’m hardly ever convinced that the theatrical device of a “play-in-a-play” really works well. The bucolic play at the end of the third act, re-imagined as an absurdist show-within-an-opera was mildly entertaining, but did stretch the audience goodwill beyond an acceptable limit. Certainly some in the audience loved the outlandish comedy, others were starting to look at their watches.

Not unlike many of Shakespeare’s comedies, Benjamin Britten’s operatic version of A Midsummer Night's Dream may be an acquired taste – long on atmosphere and fun, but a little short on musicality.

© 2023 John Jane