A Midsummer Night’s Dream, review of the Grange festival
Don’t ask where some of the money comes from, or who it’s going to, but for now celebrate the work these setups have given to top-notch singers, players and production crews, including many have barely worked in the past 14 years. month. Michael Chance at the Grange Festival had a particularly difficult time – we don’t know half of it, although I learned a bit more in the intermission last night – including the last minute need to find a solution to the made that a full Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra could not be accommodated in the small pit.
This solution gives a small miracle. Due to the complications of Covid, the very experienced Sian Edwards has recorded a soundtrack with the orchestra, while another conductor, Anthony Kraus, can sit during introductions and interludes, but works with Jo Ramadan to s ‘fit for singers (I would have loved to have previewed how it works, but it does, beautifully). A smaller group in the pit wouldn’t have captured all the colors of one of Britten’s largest and brightest scores, and those forest sighs and moans on the glissando strings in one of the most more spooky opera would not work on pianos. The coordination isn’t as perfect as you might expect with a 42-piece live band, but it’s remarkably good and carries a real load in Britten’s most visceral moments (Bottom’s stupid transformation causing the panic among other mechanics, for example, or the growing savagery of the lovers’ feud. In the photo below: First Night Bottom, Henry Waddington, with Samantha Clarke’s Tytania). Another issue is that, with the decision to delay the opening of the season until what Chance had hoped would be the end of the lockdown, director Paul Curran had to return to America several weeks before the first night. Maybe that’s why the set isn’t as tight as it could be; less fuss, action and mimed speeches around the main dramatic events would have allowed for more focus, although it was a good idea to present a stylized version of Act 1’s entanglement at the court of Theseus before the music begins in the wood (which is in fact, in The Set Design of Curran, a ruined Greek temple, Sounion style, spinning when the canvas tangles with little effect and a lot of squeaking). The intention of some of the gestures seems a bit shy, much like Gabriella Ingram’s costumes – weird, but not enough (why not go all out in the glam-rock? Why does Tytania’s hoop skirt go up? so high in the front, why the blood in the train? And the Greek references – in a drama where Athens is only a nominal setting – do not go far enough in the costume of the lovers at first, a little too far in the last act, although that suits the dismal Pyramus and Thisbe comedy well). Puck looks good but Chris Darmanin isn’t encouraged to be mean enough; a few nimble jumps over broken columns are about as far as characterization goes.
The real riches are both vocal and orchestral (fabulous double bass solos in the soundscape, although Puck’s trumpet should be placed more forward). Lest it be considered nepotism that Michael Chance’s son Alexander now shines in his father’s most famous role, it should be noted that three others who were chosen had to step down due to of the nature of the time. And Chance the Younger sings it really beautifully, with the right undertones. While he’s not yet naturally bossy on stage – this is his first role – it seems Curran has fostered a stillness in him that others might at times adopt. Her Fairy Queen is Samantha Clarke, graduating (or dodging) from her role as the hilarious Helena at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (where she received the Gold Medal in 2020). Cheerful, delighted, sexy-flirtatious in Tytania’s dreamlike romance with Bottom, she manages everything with exquisite musical taste. Eleanor Dennis is the brave Hermia here at Angela Simkin’s more grounded Helena; Lysander really needs a beefier tenor than lightweight Peter Kirk, but there’s no denying that he and Alex Otterburn’s very promising Demetrius look great in the underwear that lovers are so often reduced to in the game and the opera. Not quite as convincing as, presumably due to Covid’s restrictions on practical engagement, all four of them undress unconvincingly. There are, however, some ingenious gags throughout the long, delicate battle of act two. The last minute vocal luster comes from Theseus by Roberto Lorenzi and Hippolyte by Angharad Lyddon, magnificent in voice and silhouette (photo above right with Dennis, Otterburn, Simkin and Kirk).
Mechanics need more focus in their rehearsal scenes, but do a really funny piece before the Duke. The Stage Thief is Ben Johnson’s ingeniously responsive flute as Thisbe, as it fits with how Britten wrote the role (for his partner Peter Pears to give a nasty Joan Sutherland impersonation as Lucia) . But there are also fun works of Snout / Wall by Gwilym Bowen, Starveling / Moonshine by Johnny Herford, and Snug / Lion of Zion Goronwy losing the tunic. Last night was James Platt’s first time as Bottom – happy day for the Barn when his Covid test came back negative – and it’s one hell of a rich bass voice, alongside Goronwy and William Thomas in Quince: A golden age has dawned for voice type among young singers, it seems. Not often hilarious, but rich in hues indeed. It’s a shame the fairies couldn’t be sung by boys, as Britten intended – there’s a real pathos when that happens – but the singers at the Royal Academy of Music do as well as they do. could, even if I would have preferred we see less of it when the orchestra does its work of wood-magic creation during interludes which only require an empty stage. All in all, however, a great cast – the three-star standard becomes five due to pandemic difficulties – and here’s a thought: since The Grange Festival already has its orchestral soundtrack, why not record it all for one. sound only output? This is something Garsington used to do, and he could have a large following. Good news came late in the evening, when Michael Chance took the stage to tell us not only that England had won against Germany, but also that there may be full halls for Thursday. So, suddenly more tickets became available.