Opera A Midsummer Night's Dream LSO / Colin Davis, Barbican, London

'The show belonged to Colin Davis and the LSO, miraculously freed from a subterranean pit to be positioned on stage'
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The Independent Culture
"Magic" and "the Barbican" are not words that trip off the tongue easily, at least not in association, but last Sunday's afternoon performance at the Barbican of A Midsummer Night's Dream was magical. This was not Shakespeare's play but Benjamin Britten's illuminating adaptation, seen here semi-staged.

The production is not destined for the theatre, but the musical aspects are to be put on CD at the end of next year. And one can only wonder how the CDs will turn out, recorded, as they will be, without the benefit of a warmly supportive and intently involved audience.

Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream was written for performance at the 1960 Aldeburgh Festival. It was his first full-length opera since The Turn of the Screw (1954) and it seems to provide a dramatic and musical answer to the Screw, the friendly face of the supernatural. Only the slightest shift of emphasis changes Britten's instrumental colours of fear and foreboding to colours manifestly about fairies, for in this opera it's not fate that messes things up, but fairies.

Britten's Dream is written for chamber orchestra but includes "Fairy" instruments - two harps, harpsichord, celeste and percussion. A cut-down LSO occupied the right side of the stage, leaving the left free for action - to the misfortune, perhaps, of those sitting on the right. The stage of the Barbican does not allow for sophisticated lighting nor entrances and exits, while it seemed little short of supernatural that the female lovers didn't come tottering off their alarmingly high heels in negotiating the risers. Puck scampering along front-stage had at least one cellist diving for cover.

Hardy Aimes provided striking Fifties-type costumes from his 50th anniversary Couture Collection - neat suits and jackets for the lovers, a slinky white number for Tytania, and a "Smoking" for Oberon who looked as though he had wandered out of the "007" exhibition currently in the Stalls Gallery. The "rustics" were less lavishly attired, looking like ordinary jobbing plumbers - except for Bottom, who appeared to be a Canadian lumberjack. The Fairies, all kids, were dressed in jeans, T-shirts and baseball hats while Puck, a senior Fairy, kept a baseball hat but had graduated to pillarbox- coloured dungarees.

Musically, as any record company might want for its recording, the performance was almost sensational. An impressive cast included Elizabeth Futral (Tytania), Brian Asawa (Oberon) - giving in pitch what he lacked in oiliness - Robert Lloyd (Bottom), who somehow never entirely convinced that he wasn't a cardinal in disguise, a superbly fluent John Mark Ainsley (Lysander), Paul Whelan (Demetrius), Janice Watson (Helena), Ruby Philogene (Hermia) and Ian Bostridge (Thisbe).

But the show really belonged to Colin Davis and the LSO, miraculously freed from a subterranean pit to be positioned on stage. Never can this score have sounded more translucent, Davis lovingly shaping and polishing the sounds till they glistened. With performances like this, can the Royal Opera House and English National Opera safely close their doors in 1997?

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