Maybe it’s the music, maybe it’s the youth of the performers, maybe it’s the setting which leaves everything to the imagination, and surely it’s in part the lighting and stage direction, but Seattle Opera Young Artists’ production of Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is enchanting, enthralling and very funny.
You wouldn’t think a classroom with serviceable table, chairs and a white board could possibly function as a backdrop for Shakespeare’s forest fantasy in ancient Greece. Or that a bunch of British boarding school kids in uniform (school colors navy and yellow) and their hormone-mad faculty could become the fairies and mortals. But it does and they do, while the workmen who gather to create an entertainment are the same as Shakespeare’s workmen, but their impact is more immediate thanks to the intimate space of the Theatre at Meydenbauer Center.
Britten’s music is quite spare much of the time, and changes style and mood according to which group is on stage, most notably at the very end when Duke Theseus (mellifluous bass Jeffrey Beruan, the headmaster) and his fiancee, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (mezzo-soprano Margaret Gawrysiak, soon to be headmistress) arrive to suddenly lush, tonal harmonies.
With only nine Young Artists in the Seattle Opera program, another nine plus a children’s chorus have been brought in to fill out the cast, but these are all themselves young and many have been in other young artist programs or are past members of this one. Counter-tenor Anthony Roth Costanzo as a superb Oberon was in the Glimmerglass Opera program, and last month was a winner of this year’s Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Baritone Jeffrey Madison as an irrepressible Bottom the weaver is a past Met auditions district winner.
These two shone in the rewarding roles Britten and Shakespeare wrote for them. Soprano Megan Hart in this year’s Seattle Opera program made a convincing Tytania, encompassing with ease the the very high sustained singing Britten requires and at the same time including every late teenage gesture familiar in a senior high school girl.
It was harder to see the four lovers as faculty members, behaving as they did more like randy college types. To my mind these are the least interesting characters in Shakespeare’s play without a lot of individuality, but all four singers from the Seattle program gave them all they could.
The workmen, in contrast, were highly individual, and a delight as both actors and singers.
Seattle actor David S. Hogan with a punk hairstyle in the speaking role of the impish Puck moved with the speedy lightness of a dancer. However, he was hampered by being given differing British accents to speak in at different times, none of which truly sounded right particularly the one from northern England which, since it’s my own home base, I found excruciatingly wrong. However this may not bother others.
Given the plain setting and clothing reminiscent of Hogwarts, it was Peter Kazaras’ inspired stage direction and Connie Yun’s lighting which made this production magical.
Kazaras married the school with the fantastic seamlessly, and nothing seemed out of place. Every tiny move or expression in each character combined to make a whole as detailed as a Brueghel painting. Kudos here too to costume designer Heidi Ganser for the workmen’s ‘found” costumes for their show which were nothing short of hilarious.
Mention, too, should be made of the children’s chorus. Britten never wrote down to children, saying children rose to the occasion, as did these eight who acted and sang their roles like veterans.
Brian Garman, seemingly no older than the Young Artists, is now the program’s formal music director, and gave an unerring pace to the opera with an orchestra many of whose players came from the capable Auburn Symphony.
In short, this is a show not to be missed. Worth every penny of a not very big price for opera and a student rate barely more than a movie ticket.
Five more performances through April 5th, at Meydenbauer Center Theater. Tickets $15-$35 at seattleopera.org.