Fantasy and hilarity rule the night

Britten's adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream saw its original five acts reduced to three, with the First Act dispensed with altogether. PHOTO: NEW OPERA SINGAPORE LTD/FACEBOOK



New Opera Singapore

Victoria Theatre/Last Friday

It has been 22 years since Benjamin Britten's operatic setting of Shakespeare's comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream last played in Singapore.

In 1997, the Singapore Lyric Opera mounted a production - with a largely foreign cast of singers and conducted by Lim Yau - which remains one of the company's most remarkable achievements.

Although trailing in authenticity and refinement, New Opera Singapore's production with a largely local cast, directed by Jeong Ae Ree and conducted by Chan Wei Shing, was nonetheless impressive for its freshness of ideas and ebullience of delivery.

Britten's adaptation saw its original five acts reduced to three, with the First Act dispensed with altogether.

The libretto remained largely unchanged, thus retaining much of the humour and farce. Its story of fairies, humans and actors (here called rustics), their falling in and out of love, and mistakenly applied "love" juice, made for much fantasy and enchantment.

Soprano Victoria Songwei Li, returning from last year's triumph in Poulenc's Dialogues Of The Carmelites, was just as stunning in the coloratura role of Tytania. The range and agility of her voice were matched by an alluring physical presence that was hard to ignore.

Coming quite close was actor Dwayne Lau Wei An as the playful Puck, prancing opposite countertenor Glenn Wong as the tyrannical Oberon.

The mortals Helena (sung by Jennifer Lien), Hermia (Rebecca Chellappah), Lysander (Shaun Lee) and Demetrius (Kang Mingseong) as subjects of love were also well cast, especially the women.

The rustics, comprising Bottom (Sangchul Jae), Quince (Keane Ong), Flute (Adrian Poon), Snout (Samuel Ng), Starveling (Francis Wong) and Snug (David Lee), who were planning a play within a play, provided further comic elements to an already hilarious script.

Although singing and speaking in English, not all the words were clearly enunciated and heard. The Korean singers were at a disadvantage here, made more difficult when wearing the headpiece of a donkey. As such, the smart use of surtitles proved all the more vital.

The all-boys choir from Anglo-Chinese School (Junior and Barker Road) provided the quality of innocence which Britten sought.

Mingling among them were the fairies Moth (Jasmine Towndrow), Peaseblossom (Lara Tan), Cobweb (Melissa Hecker) and Mustardseed (Yssela Erquiaga), with the youngsters acquitting themselves with purity and grace.

The set, designed by RT+Q Architects and made from detachable and mobile ramps of different heights, was simple and highly effective. This allowed for a clarity of storytelling on different planes besides preventing a cramped stage.

Consistent with the company's penchant for the edgy and slightly risque, there were scenes of cross-dressing (Poon as the awkward bride Thisby) and hints of bestiality between woman and donkey.

New Opera Singapore has overachieved again, given its small budget that allows for just one major production annually.

Next year sees the Singapore premiere of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress and expectations already run high.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2019, with the headline Fantasy and hilarity rule the night. Subscribe