The IU Opera Theater’s production of Benjamin Britten’s "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" is a colorful spectacle with costumes that range from the punk of Puck to the massive peacock feather accented cape of Oberon. In between there is the contemporary casual of the lovers, the country eccentric of the mechanicals and the over the top delightful silliness of the fairies.
Stage director Colin Graham’s concept places the action in a park in a large urban area. As the night came on we could see the twinkling lights of tall building in the distance. In addition to the costumes, designer C. David Higgins has created a stage doughnut with an external wheel that rotates and an internal wheel that rotates independently. The general feel is of an abstract wood at its most effective when turning through action and at its most lovely in the early morning light of the third act.
Benjamin Britten wrote the part of Oberon for a countertenor. In Friday night’s cast it was Daniel Bubeck. Bubeck’s contralto is fuller and more richly vibratoed than the sounds that I’m familiar with from early music performers. He was more than a vocal match for Natalie Ford as his feuding Queen Tytania.
Of Shakespeare’s lovers, Jenny Searles as Helena was the most dramatically effective even as he vainly pursued and later with fairy help won her Demetrius. Apparently Helena surprised Demetrius on his way home from a park soft ball game as he persisted in clutching a ball bat that I kept worrying might be used offensively. Garth Eppley and Sarah Mabary rounded out the cast as Lysander and Hermia.
The mechanical’s who put on the "Tragical Comedy of Pyramus and Thisby" were led by Robert Samels, a full voiced and remarkably comic Bottom the weaver, who played Pyramus with Mathew Latta as Francis Flute, bellows mender and unwilling Thisby. Samels got most of the evening’s laughs in "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," whether with his fellow thespians or with the donkey’s head on as the love object of the bespelled Queen Tytania.
John Paul Huckle and Lisa LaFleur were appropriately uptown and regal as the to be married Theseus and Hippolyta, though their first entry dressed hunting garb with rifles seemed a bit peculiar in an urban park.
Puck in Britten’s opera is a non singing role. Dancer actor Christopher Nachtrab was a delightfully athletic Puck. His first entrance was a delightful high jump with full extension. Nachtrab’s final extended speech was punctuated with cartwheels, forward and backward somersaults and a series of other moves combining ballet and extreme cheerleading.
David Effron conducted a taut performance of the score that has frequent shifts in sound worlds and forces deploying a wide range of twentieth century sounds whose sweetness is more than balance by its piquance.
The IU Opera Theater’s production of Benjamin Britten’s opera based on Shakespeare’s "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" continues with performances Friday and Saturday at eight in the Musical Arts Center.
You can hear an interview with designer David Higgins on our Arts Interviews page .