Archive for the ‘various’ Category

The Tempest, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, November 2012

11 November, 2012

This remarkable opera by Thomas Adès, to a libretto by Meredith Oakes, dares turn Shakespeare’s play into an opera, and succeeds.

All images MetOpera/ Ken Howard

First performed in 2004 at Covent Garden in an intriguing production by Tom Cairns, it was originally co-produced with the Copenhagen Opera House and the Opéra National du Rhin in Strasbourg. This production at the Met by Robert Lepage, co-produced with the Quebec Opera and the Vienna State Opera, shows Prospero’s body tattooed with knowledge from the vast library he owned in Milan before his exile, whereas in Cairns’ production he used a laptop. That single difference is emblematic of the distinction between these productions, the first ethereal, the second set on the stage of an early nineteenth century La Scala with costumes to match. Rather appropriate since the play shows how Prospero’s stage magic wins him back the Dukedom of Milan plus a marital alliance with the Kingdom of Naples.

Prospero and Miranda

The forging of that alliance, between his daughter Miranda and Prince Ferdinand of Naples, is rather different from Shakespeare, where one might suppose that Prospero intended it all along. Here the libretto makes clear that he greatly detests the intrusion of Ferdinand, and in this production he strings him up.

Prospero and Ariel

The Met did well to cast Simon Keenlyside as Prospero, which he sang in the original production and performed here with huge vocal strength and commanding stage presence. Isabel Leonard as his daughter Miranda was a study in perfection, and she and Alek Shrader as Ferdinand made a lovely couple. As Prospero’s monstrous servant Caliban, Alan Oke made a terrific impression from his very first entrance, and in this production he appeared almost as a dark alter-ego to his master. He, Prospero and Miranda, inhabitants of the island before the storm that brings Prospero’s enemies to judgement, carried the opera between them, but other roles were notably well performed. Toby Spence, who sang Ferdinand in London, came over very well as Antonio, the usurper who took the Dukedom of Milan from his brother, and Christopher Feigum sang strongly as brother to the King of Naples, nobly represented by William Burden.

The production starts with a gymnastic Ariel cavorting on a chandelier with shipwrecked passengers bobbing around in a stormy sea. Soon after, Audrey Luna as the singing Ariel showed she was no mean gymnast herself as she flitted about, barely ever touching the ground. Carried by invisible hands at times she seemed to float, and finally became a twelve legged insect hovering above the stage, a remarkable physical performance.

Caliban

Congratulations to the Met for putting on a modern British opera, conducted by the composer himself, who provides a beautiful musical tapestry, from the devilishly magical to a gentle love duet for Ferdinand and Miranda. Such is the stuff that dreams are made on, and at the end Caliban is alone, all others being melted into air, into thin air.

The Lighthouse, English Touring Opera, ETO, Linbury Studio, Covent Garden, October 2012

11 October, 2012

Just after Christmas in the year 1900 a steamer went to the Flannan Islands Lighthouse bringing a keeper to relieve one of the three keepers already there. The Flannan Isles are a lonely spot beyond the Outer Hebrides, and when the steamer arrived the three keepers had vanished into thin air. What happened?

All images ETO/ Richard Hubert Smith

This remarkable chamber opera by Peter Maxwell Davies tells us. Or does it? In the first half three officers who arrived at the Lighthouse tell a later enquiry what they encountered. Everything apparently in order, a meal partly eaten, a chair lying slightly broken, and not a soul to be seen. Their reports on the chair differ, as would any eyewitness accounts, but what they found seems clear enough. Then in part two, after the interval, the three officers, strongly sung and with excellent diction by Adam Tunnicliffe, Nicholas Merryweather and Richard Mosley-Evans, reappear as the three lighthouse keepers.

The three lighthouse keepers

Three people with their own ghosts, each a little worrisome in his own way. Mosley-Evans as the bass is a religious nut, prone to Biblical visions, and in a Peter Grimes type of way sings, “Time to light the lantern shining across the seas of sinfulness”. Is he crazy, or is Merryweather the baritone the crazy one, singing of a heinous crime he got away with as a teenager? The music already got strangely excitable in the first half and in the second half it heaves with emotional energy. Played by a smallish group of instrumentalists it was directed by Richard Baker, who kept the tension going very well.

Tension arises

Because of stormy seas the keepers had been left alone too long, and their equanimity is beginning to crack. Tunnicliffe as the tenor is the first to be hit, and this production, brilliantly directed by Ted Huffman, with designs by Neil Irish, leaves us wondering what will happen next. Lighting by Guy Hoare is superb, with its subtle changes from cold to warm, and in the end it gives a fine impression of a lighthouse beam rotating and playing on a scene that is not quite what it seems.

To find the answer, or at least an answer, as to what happened witness the opera yourself. It’s a powerful work.

Performances continue at the Linbury Studio Theatre, 13th Oct – 7:45 pm; West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, 16th Oct – 7:30 pm; Exeter Northcott, 24th Oct – 7:30 pm; Harrogate Theatre, 1st Nov – 7:30 pm; Theatre Royal Bath, 6th Nov – 7:30 pm; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 9th Nov – 7:30 pm. For details click here.

The Emperor of Atlantis, English Touring Opera, ETO, Linbury Studio, October 2012

6 October, 2012

This extraordinary one-act opera was composed in the Nazi concentration camp Terezin (Theresienstadt), located in what is now the Czech Republic near the German border. Its composer Viktor Ullmann (1898–1944), born in a small town near the meeting point of what is now the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, was a serious musician who had studied in Vienna under Schoenberg. He and his librettist Peter Kien essentially completed their work in 1943, but the Nazis terminated it during rehearsals. The following year almost all the creative team and half the singers were sent to Auschwitz, where most of them met death before liberation in 1945.

The Prologue, all images ETO/ Richard Hubert Smith

One of the main characters in the opera is Death itself, whose eternal rights are being usurped by Emperor Überall of Atlantis, a thinly veiled representation of the mad German leadership. He commands everyone to fight until there are no survivors, but it is not so simple. A soldier and maiden find themselves quite unable to kill one another, and people are in limbo between life and death. Harlequin appeals to the emperor to cease, the Drummer (Eva Braun?) urges him on, but in a moment of introspection the emperor enters the mirror and meets Death. They do a deal — Death will resume his normal duties if the emperor will be the first to try out the new death. He agrees, and the suffering people can once more find release in the natural processes of the grim reaper.

Drummer, Emperor, Harlequin

The staging by James Conway is simple and very effective, with Neil Irish’s elaborately garish costumes and tiny stage surmounted by curved parallel bars of iron reminiscent of the Auschwitz entrance sign. The singing was uniformly excellent with Robert Winslade Anderson as Death, Richard Mosley-Evans as the Emperor, Callum Thorpe as the Loudspeaker, and Paula Sides, Jeffrey Stewart, Katie Bray and Rupert Charlesworth as the Maiden, Harlequin, Drummer and Soldier.

Conducting by Peter Selwyn maintained the tension in this musically intriguing and extremely moving work that used only instruments available in the camp. It involves the Martin Luther hymn Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, which Bach later used as a source for his chorale cantata of the same name, and James Conway has prefaced the drama with another highly appropriate Bach cantata Christ lag in Todes banden (Christ lay in the bonds of death), which stresses the struggle between life and death.

Death and the Emperor

As the opera progressed I found myself drawn ever closer to seeing the madness that contaminated Europe not so very long ago. Unquestionably worth seeing, and the programme is good value for the director’s notes and the essay by David Fligg, let alone the other two operas (Albert Herring and The Lighthouse) on the ETO’s autumn tour.

Atlantis continues on tour at: Linbury Studio Theatre, 12th Oct – 8:00 pm; West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, 18th Oct – 8:15 pm; Alyth Gardens, London, NW11, 20th Oct – 7:15 pm; Exeter Northcott, 26th Oct – 8:15 pm; Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells, 29th Oct – 8:15 pm; Harrogate Theatre, 3rd Nov – 8:15 pm; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 11th Nov – 4:00 pm; Great Malvern Priory, 14th Nov – 8:15 pm; Buxton Opera House, 17th Nov – 8:15 pm. For further details click here.

A Village Romeo and Juliet, Queen Elizabeth Hall, QEH, South Bank Centre, 25 September 2012

26 September, 2012

This lyric drama in six scenes by Frederick Delius is based on a novel by Gottfried Keller, inspired by a report in the Swiss newspaper Zürcher Freitagszeitung from 3 September 1847. A young man of 19 and girl of 17 had fallen in love despite the enmity of their peasant families. One evening the young couple danced together at a local inn; the next day they were found dead in a nearby meadow.

Keller’s novel elaborated these essentials by including an itinerant fiddler who has land between the two families, but could not legally inherit it because he is illegitimate. He is happy for the young people to use it, and the drama starts with them, Sali (Romeo) and Vreli (Juliet), as children. With the family quarrel leading to lawsuits that eventually bring ruin to both, they are forbidden to play together.

By Scene 2, six years later, they meet again and fall in love. Their clandestine encounters are on the Fiddler’s land, but her father Marti catches them and Sali strikes him to the ground. Marti later loses his reason and leaves the house, which is put up for sale. After his departure, Sali enters and the young couple settle by the fire to sleep. Both dream the same dream, of being married in the old church at Seldwyla, and we hear organ and bells. A lovely crescendo starting on the harp and strings brings morning, and thus ends Scene 4 and the first half.

The singing got off to a terrific start with Christopher Maltman as Sali’s father Manz singing powerfully. Andrew Shore sang Marti, and though I thought the pitch was rather too low for him in parts he came into his own at the end of Scene 3 when he catches the two lovers together. This great singing actor showed sudden intense anger, giving this moment huge dramatic impact.

As the young lovers, Anna Devin gave a gentle and sweetly sung portrayal of Vreli, and Joshua Ellicott endowed Sali with a strongly lyrical tone. Together their duets were excellent, soaring to wonderful heights in Scenes 4 and 6, though it was hard to hear the words despite the English text. David Wilson-Johnson did well in this respect, singing very clearly as the fiddler.

In scene 5 six soloists joined the lovers and fiddler at front stage, and with the chorus at the rear we are at the local fair, the lady soloists singing with great vivacity. But Sali and Vreli feel out of place and walk together to the paradise garden. This famous piece of music was so beautifully conducted that I found myself carried through time to another world. Finally in Scene 6 the rumpus of the common world returns, and the lovers re-enter. The fiddler suggests they join him in the vagabond life, but a bargeman is heard on the river and they decide to leave together. Taking a barge they cast off, and drift to the middle of the river where Sali removes the plug from the hull. They fall into each others arms and the barge begins to sink

A wonderful performance all round, with Ronald Corp’s conducting of the New London Orchestra producing glowing crescendos. The Walk to the Paradise Garden was beautifully played and this concert performance of Delius’s fourth opera was a treat, though sadly a one-off.

Julietta, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, September 2012

18 September, 2012

Dreams or Reality? For Michel, a bookseller from Paris, there is something addictive about dreams, but in the first two acts the auditorium lights slowly come on at the end, as if he is waking up. When the third act nears its conclusion the lighting shows some promise of doing the same again, but it suddenly goes dark and Michel is trapped for ever. This clever idea is just part of Richard Jones’s excellent new production of Martinů’s opera.

All images ENO/ Richard Hubert Smith

Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů left his homeland for Paris in 1923 and during his many years there he found Georges Neveux’s recent play Juliette, ou La clé des songes (the key of dreams) a fine subject for opera. He wrote the libretto himself, initially in French then in Czech, and it was first performed in Prague in 1938.

Michel and Julietta

The main protagonist Michel yearns to find a girl named Julietta, and he revisits the small coastal town where he once heard her singing at an open window. The inhabitants seem to live only in the present without memory of the past, and when Michel encounters a fortune teller he finds she doesn’t read the future, only the past … and can also read dreams. Nothing however is quite as it seems, and though Michel shoots Julietta it turns out later she is still alive and there is not a drop of blood.

Surreal it certainly is, and the music is intriguing. Severely spare at times, yet suddenly swelling into glorious melody, particularly in Act II, which is nearly as long as the other two half-hour acts combined. We are swayed and seduced by the harmonies, taken away into dreams, memories and hallucinations, and Edward Gardner in the orchestra pit succeeds brilliantly in bringing out the mystery and charm of this music.

Peter Hoare was outstanding as Michel, with Julia Sporsén giving a fine portrayal of Julietta. Andrew Shore was excellent as the man in a helmet, plus two other roles, and the other soloists, such as Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts and Susan Bickley, all did well and took on multiple roles. An abundance of roles helps advance the action by exchanges between a constantly changing sequence of individuals, avoiding the need for extended vocal solos or big arias, despite the lyrical nature of the music.

The Central Bureau of Dreams

Huge designs by Antony McDonald, helped by Matthew Richardson’s excellent lighting, give a sense of irreality to Michel and the strange people he encounters, and the staging and wonderful conducting make this a compelling evening. Edward Gardner and director Richard Jones have scored another great success for the ENO.

Performances continue until October 3 — for details click here.

Dr Dee, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, June 2012

27 June, 2012

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. So says Hamlet in the words of Shakespeare, who died eight years after that extraordinary Englishman, John Dee (1527–1608), whom he may have used as a model for Prospero in The Tempest.

All images ENO/ Richard Hubert Smith

Part of the inspiration for this opera, according to Adrian Mourby’s essay in the programme, was the question of who was the greatest dead Englishman, and the answer was John Dee. Mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, alchemist and polymath, he was a sort of Faust-like character who wanted to go beyond human knowledge and communicate with angels. This led to his downfall because he came to trust the clever, flamboyant, scheming liar Edward Kelley, who would help him uncover the Enochian language of heaven. Kelley became Dee’s regular scryer (medium and crystal gazer), inveigled his way into the household and claimed that an angel commanded that he sleep with Dee’s wife.

Kelley, Dee’s wife, and Dee blindfolded

Dee had earlier been recruited by Francis Walsingham, head of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in particular to advise on an auspicious date for the coronation of the new queen, Elizabeth. But Kelley was seriously distrusted by those around Walsingham, and Dee’s influence at court waned. He died in straitened circumstances, and this opera starts and ends with the bedridden Dee being cared for by his daughter, Katherine.

Dee dies attended by his daughter

In the meantime we are treated to ingenious theatrical effects that convey the image of a man of tireless energy exploring the secrets of nature. Dee was well-known on the continent of Europe as an expert of Euclid, and the proof he gives on stage is just like those found in the Hellenistic world. In Euclidean geometry Dee was in touch with the ultimate, its theorems as valid now as they ever were, but not so with astronomy. We are treated to a wonderful view of the moon and planets forming geometric patterns as they revolve around the earth, a geocentric view of the universe propounded by Ptolemy in his famous Almagest. This was the basis for all astronomy until the seventeenth century when use of the telescope finally convinced Galileo and others that the planets had moons and orbited the sun. Yet Dee himself, and Walsingham, may have known of the telescope earlier, since a sixteenth century English design existed that would have been a closely guarded secret for the Navy Royal.

John Dee, polymath extraordinary

Dee’s books we see by the hundreds, and books are opened out as concertinas that grow in size and serve as screens. Early in the second half, people and objects appear from behind these screens as they are dragged across stage, and then another screen converts them into line drawings that decompose before our eyes. These stunning visual effects are very clever.

For most of the first half, all is well, with Paul Hilton entirely convincing as John Dee, Anna Dennis as his daughter Katherine, Clemmie Sveaas as Dee’s young wife Jane, and Steven Page giving a fine portrayal of Walsingham. But then counter-tenor Christopher Robson appears as Kelley, and Dee pursues a path towards his Faust-like error. Walsingham grows in size and the human ravens of his entourage take on a more menacing mien. Towards the end real ravens appear, flying across the auditorium and returning obediently to the upper level of the stage.

That upper level is where the orchestra sat for most of the opera, a reminder if any were needed of the habit in Elizabethan theatre of having the musicians at a higher level. Costumes are Elizabethan, and this extraordinary creation by Damon Albarn and director Rufus Norris is a sight not to be missed. The music by Damon Albarn, conducted and supervised by Stephen Higgins, mixes a twenty-first century popular style with musical ideas from the sixteenth and seventeenth century. In putting on this imaginative show the ENO is offering opera to a wide audience, and my only complaint is that they have abandoned their usual practice of providing surtitles. It was not always easy to understand the words, particularly the utterances of Edward Kelley, but the synopsis in the programme expressed everything with excellent clarity — so be sure to buy a programme.

Performances continue until July 7 — for details click here.

Caligula, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, May 2012

26 May, 2012

Caligula ruled for just under four years (AD 37–41) before being assassinated at the age of 28. He was the emperor who threatened to make his horse a consul, simply to mock the subservience of the aristocracy, and when one sycophant proffered his own life should the emperor recover from illness, Caligula took it from him as soon as he was well. That incident appears in this opera, towards the end, and is one of several deaths, including Caligula’s own, stabbed by numerous hands. Yet afterwards he stands up and cries out, “I am still alive”. A minute later the opera ends, more or less as it starts, with a scream.

I am still alive! All images Johan Persson

At the beginning there is silence. A hand appears … then a man, and finally the curtain opens. A naked woman shrouded in white falls dead; the man screams. This is the death of Caligula’s lover and sister, Drusilla. Her death unhinges him, and he demands the moon.

The mirror as moon

When the moon is mentioned, as it is many times, the music has a sultry quality reminiscent of the humid moonlit night in Richard Strauss’s Salome, and there are other similarities, as when four nobles all sing contrasting things together.

The music by Detlev Glanert kept my attention throughout, though Hans-Ulrich Treichel’s libretto, well translated by Amanda Holden and based on a play by Camus, was slightly lacking in dramatic tension. The play, written during the Second World War, was a response to the dictatorships of Hitler and Stalin, but Glanert’s opera, written in 2006, had more recent material to work with, and Benedict Andrews’ production reminded me of North Korea. All those flowers, the little yellow flags being waved by everyone in the stadium on stage, and the army with machine guns at the ready.

Caligula’s slave

Yet the characters were those of Rome, and Peter Coleman-Wright gave a superb performance of Caligula, with Yvonne Howard singing beautifully as his wife, Caesonia. Caligula’s slave, Helicon, who may well have been a eunuch, is a counter-tenor role, well performed by Christopher Ainslie, and Ryan Wigglesworth in the orchestra pit made huge sense of Glanert’s music.

Dress was modern, but with bizarre costumes for clowns, cartoon characters and women in various cabaret outfits thrown in. The naked Drusilla, shrouded in white at the start, becomes a naked woman in gold paint, and in Act III Caligula appears as Venus, wearing a dress and marrying the moon.

He is having an affair with Mucius’s wife and drags her out from dinner to have sex with her, despite the fact that she’s on her period, and after it’s over she returns to the table and throws up. You wonder why they don’t just kill the man, but then when they conspire to do it and he reappears everyone fawns on him. Brutal dictatorship is not a pretty sight, and this is not a pretty opera, but the music carries it forward, giving us an insight into the insanity of narcissistic paranoia.

Performances continue until June 14 — for details click here.

Jakob Lenz, English National Opera, ENO, Hampstead Theatre, April 2012

17 April, 2012

It’s not often you see the main performer in an opera fall into deep water on stage. In fact I’m sure I’ve never seen such a thing before, and this was not metaphorical water. It was the real thing, and Andrew Shore gave a remarkable performance as the eponymous character.

Lenz and Friederike

Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz was a German dramatist, writer and poet, born in what is now Latvia in 1751. After being banished from Weimar in 1776 for writing a scurrilous poem poking fun at various members of the court, his life gradually became dominated by mental instability, sympathetically portrayed in a prose study by Georg Büchner — known to opera lovers as the author of a play on which Berg’s Wozzeck is based. Büchner’s work inspired this chamber opera by Wolfgang Rihm, written in 1977–78.

It is in thirteen scenes, which are carried through without a break, the whole thing lasting just 75 minutes. But what an experience this is of a man descending into madness, or is he sane and the world around him is going gradually crazy? The water is ever present. He falls into it again, and again, and in scene 5 after preaching in the church he baptises a girl by submersion. Later the child is drowned by Friederike Brion, an ex-lover of Goethe about whom Lenz felt passionately. She lies dead even after Lenz commands her, “Arise and walk”, … but then later Friederike escorts her from the stage. It was all in Lenz’s mind, and it was an inspiration by director Sam Brown to bring in an actress to portray Friederike in a full eighteenth hair-do and finery.

The other singing roles here are taken by Jonathan Best as the Lutheran pastor, building a new church whose roof is finally fitted in the last scene, and Richard Roberts as Kaufmann, a friend of Lenz who comes to visit him in the village in Alsace. He too is dressed in eighteenth century finery with rouged cheeks, serving to contrast the urban world that Lenz has left with the natural world he now inhabits.

Designs by Annemarie Woods with excellent lighting by Guy Hoare help give an almost supernatural sense of impending insanity, very apposite to Lenz’s condition which many have considered to be a case of schizophrenia. This is a fascinating work and the programme notes help illuminate the background to Lenz himself.

Musically the rhythms keep changing, and the small orchestra of eleven players, including three cellos but no other stringed instruments, was very ably conducted by Alex Ingram. He seemed effortlessly to keep the singers in phase with the music, which can’t be easy. Sam Brown’s production is not to be missed, but what really made this such a remarkable performance was Andrew Shore in the title role.

Performances continue until April 27 — for details click here.

Miss Fortune, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2012

13 March, 2012

The title of this opera is a play on words, the eponymous character being the daughter of Lord and Lady Fortune, whose riches have melted away, and after the chorus sings, “We think you should go to gaol”, they take off.

All images by Bill Cooper

Miss Fortune stays behind singing that, “I won’t scuttle away … I’m going to live in the real world”. And so she does, but the forces of chaos, represented by break-dancers, lead her through a course of ill-luck before she wins the lottery. Judith Weir wrote both music and libretto, reflecting the banalities of a dull life in expressions such as, “I can’t go on like this. In the end we’ll all be dead”.

In the end the opera finished rather suddenly, and the Soul Mavericks break-dancers came on to thunderous applause. They were super. The whole production by Chinese opera expert Chen Shi-Zheng was delightfully colourful with bold set designs by Tom Pye, costumes by Han Feng, and excellent lighting by Scott Zielinski. As a co-production with the Bregenz festival it was first shown in July 2011, and the cast remained the same for this UK premiere.

Break-dancers

Emma Bell sang beautifully in the title role, and Jacques Imbrailo was wonderful in the relatively small role of Simon, the attractive man she leaves with at the end. Noah Stewart was very fine in the role of Hassan, the owner of a Kebab shop whose business is destroyed by the break-dancers, Andrew Watts sang the counter-tenor role in the rather shadowy character of fate, and Anne-Marie Owens sang well as Donna the owner of a Laundromat.

A mixture of soap opera and fairy tale, the story lacks narrative drive, and the clouds of mellifluous music lack a cutting edge. The saving grace is the very effective staging, with Paul Daniel in the orchestra pit doing his best to inject life into an otherwise unimpassioned score.

Performances continue until March 28 — for details click here.

The Enchanted Island, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, January 2012

22 January, 2012

Shakespeare’s Tempest with the lovers from Midsummer Night’s Dream thrown in, all to music by Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau, et al, with fabulous costumes, sets, and even mermaids. This enterprising creation by Jeremy Sams, following an original idea by the Met’s general manager Peter Gelb, is an innovative project that really succeeds, particularly in Act II.

Neptune's World, all images MetOpera/Ken Howard

When I first went to opera, back in the days before surtitles, I would avoid reading the synopsis, and enjoy the story as it unfolded, which for something like Tosca was absolutely thrilling. I did the same here, but found Act I overlong, and a bit confusing with these strangers from Dream appearing on Prospero’s Island — perhaps an extra intermission would have helped, but Act II was super.

Prospero and Ariel

Caliban and Sycorax

The singing from some of the cast was inspired, and as soon as Luca Pisaroni made his vocal entrance in the role of Caliban the performance moved into top form. He was terrific, and so was Joyce DiDonato as his mother, the sorceress Sycorax — here she is a real character, rather than an unseen one as in Shakespeare’s play. David Daniels made a wonderfully convincing Prospero, as did Lisette Oropresa as his lovely daughter Miranda, and Danielle de Niese was brilliantly cast as Ariel. Her body movements are flowingly musical and she is such a teasingly good actor. This was a hugely strong cast of principals, with wonderful performances from the lovers:  Layla Claire as Helena, Elizabeth De Shong as Hermia, Paul Appleby as Demetrius and Eliot Madore as Lysander. All were excellent and I thought the two ladies were vocally outstanding. These characters from Midsummer Night’s Dream arrive from the tempest commanded by Prospero, Ariel’s magic spell having gone awry, but Miranda’s future partner Ferdinand is yet to be found. Help is sought from Neptune, whose magnificent appearance in an underwater world complete with chorus and glorious floating mermaids was given vocal heft and buckets-full of gravitas by Placido Domingo. His intervention succeeds, and in Act II countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo made his entrance as Ferdinand singing with a lovely tone.

The lovers from Midsummer Night's Dream

Musically, Jeremy Sams has combined arias and recitatives from various sources, and created a remarkably unified whole, but then that is partly what those masters of the baroque did, poaching from their own earlier compositions. It was all played under the baton of baroque expert William Christie, in a stunning production by Phelim McDermott, who was responsible for the excellent Satyagraha I saw on stage at the English National Opera two years ago (and which was later a Met ‘live in HD’ relay). On this occasion, Julian Crouch was responsible for the clever set designs, and Kevin Pollard for the glorious costumes. Fine lighting by Brian MacDevitt and I loved the dance choreography by Graciela Daniele. Handel would surely have approved, though perhaps with some envy at modern technical abilities to create such an extravaganza. We may no longer have the castrati, but my goodness we have singers who can turn their vocal expertise to the baroque, and our modern lighting and stage effects are unbelievable. Mr. Sams’ creation could start a trend — I rather hope so.

Finally, Shakespeare returns as Prospero speaks those wonderful lines, Our revels now are ended … And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff as dreams are made on …