Britten Opera ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ makes China debut

By Huang Tingting Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/16 19:33:39

A scene from the opera <em>A Midsummer Night's Dream</em> Photo: CFP

A scene from the opera A Midsummer Night's Dream Photo: CFP



Robert Carsen (left) and Yu Long attend a press conference in Beijing on Thursday. Photo: Courtesy of the Beijing Music Festival

Robert Carsen (left) and Yu Long attend a press conference in Beijing on Thursday. Photo: Courtesy of the Beijing Music Festival



A behind-the-scenes first look at a rehearsal for late British composer Benjamin Britten's opera adaptation of Shakespeare's fantasy classic A Midsummer Night's Dream on Thursday revealed the use of real beds and a cast draped in blues and greens. The first time the performance has come to China, the opera is set to be one of the ongoing Beijing Music Festival's major performances this year. 

Britten is not an unfamiliar name to Chinese audiences as his Peter Grimes (1945) was well-received at BMF years ago. Neither is Robert Carsen, the opera's director. His work directing Wagner opera Der Ring Des Nibelungen turned heads when it premiered in Shanghai in 2010.

The three-act opera officially debuted at the Beijing Poly Theater on Saturday, representing the beginning of BMF's five-year collaboration with the celebrated Festival d'Aix-en-Provence.

Memorable event

Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream made its global debut in London in 1960, while Carsen began directing the production in 1991.

"The production to all of us, if we're invited to comment on the age of this Shakespeare's play, is 25 years new, not 25 years old," Carsen said at a press conference for the opera on Thursday.

For him and his team, this 25-year-old play, a revival of the 1991 Aix production, is still full of vitality as it brings in new blood while keeping the best parts of the old production. Apart from bringing back the renowned Trinity Boys Choir in the roles of the fairies, the play also retains some of the original cast from the previous production.

"One of the members of the cast in the production was in the original production 25 years ago," he said.

"It's wonderful that someone was with us all this time."

The play also aims to pay tribute to the renowned British theater master Shakespeare, as this year marks the 400th anniversary of his death, Carsen explained.

"There are many, many editions that have been made of Shakespeare operas, probably because Shakespeare has inspired more of us in the West and also many other writers," said Carsen.

For BMF, which has promised to bring at least one opera masterpiece every year, the cooperation with the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence will enable it to bring some of the world's best operas and also the newest ideas in opera production to China, BMF artistic director Yu Long said at the press conference.

Unusual setting

The combination of Carsen's directing prowess with Swan Lake choreographer Matthew Bourne's imagination has helped make the play an amazing visual feast.

The Thursday rehearsal revealed that instead of the nighttime forest setting outlined in Shakespeare's work the stage in Act I has been turned into an enormous bed with two big white pillows and a grass-green quilt that lies under a dark-blue sky decorated by a crescent moon.

"Nature is so wonderful and magical that we don't want to put fake, artificial trees and branches or those things," Carsen said, explaining the reasoning behind the unusual stage setting.

"And my designers, they think it's necessary to apply a metaphor to represent somehow the forest is magical as the actions of the play take place on many levels. There is a world of humans and a world of fairies."

"The play is full of images about sleep, dreams, nightmares." he added,

"You sleep and you dream and have sex. All these happen in bed. So it occurred to us that the image could be a really big bed."

The use of bright vibrant colors not only helps to shape the background, but also the characters as well. The appearance of the fairy king Oberon in grass-green and Tytania the fairy queen in purple-blue are very impressive.

"The major colors of this production are blue and green," explained Carsen. "They are the colors that shape nature, as the trees are green and the sky is blue."

"And we brought these two colors together and gave green to Obreon, which in the West is a color of jealousy, as he is jealous of his wife," he added. "And blue, a more serene color, is given to Tytania."
Newspaper headline: Magical evening


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