Opera: A Midsummer Night's Dream Metropolitan Opera, New York

Benjamin Britten's operas have been a significant presence in New York's autumn opera season, but not in ways the composer was likely to recognise. First came the surreal Mark Lamos production of The Turn of the Screw - a major box-office success at the New York City Opera - that was so fixated on the characters' interior madness it never showed you the exterior reality they departed from. Now, British director Tim Albery - in his US directing debut - has brought A Midsummer Night's Dream back to New York after an absence of more than three decades with an updated, highly abstracted production that prompted both cheers and a heavy walkout rate last Monday at the Metropolitan Opera. However stylish with its stage full of fairies in modified ballet tutus and black dragon-fly wings, this example of the new generation of Britten productions seems premature here, particularly with The Dream, whose basic character is hardly known in America and is not likely to be amid so much production eccentricity.

Designer Antony McDonald delivered a forest without trees. That worked fine in the Royal Shakespeare Company's recent production of the original play, thanks to a unity of concept. McDonald vacillated between the luminously coloured, wavy shaped masses of David Hockney and some of the more stylish interior designs of Philippe Starck. The depths of the forest, for example, were conveyed by a succession of open doorways painted bright chartreuse. Even the crescent moon ridden by Queen Tytania (Sylvia McNair) never conveyed a sense of being out of doors. The rustics looked like modern businessmen in tacky suits while the lovers, Lysander and Demetrius (Kurt Streit and Rodney Gilfry), were identical in shoulder-length blond hair and long white robes.

Albery's touches were often puzzling as well. Puck (Nick Stahl) was a Nineties slacker, determinedly blank and sluggish. There was little sense of eroticism, which is the driving force behind the play and something the opera needs more of, considering that Britten gave his least-interesting music to the lovers and took away their dramatic urgency by cutting Shakespeare's Act 1. Though the entire package - production and opera - was engaging for its high level of industry, it seemed arch, chilly and heartless.

One might even question if a score with subtle, serpentine glissandos and delicate pairings of instruments (such as the clarinet and harp that convey Tytania's bliss) belongs in a theatre as large as the Met, considering how conductor David Atherton failed to project the musical fine points that can bring the most sparingly scored moments to life. It was hard to believe this is the great opera many say it is.

Among the singers, the robust countertenor Jochen Kowalski had none of the projection problems that plague many Oberons, while Gilfry and Peter Rose (Bottom), both in their Met debuts, were also vivid vocal presences. But the only singer who really projected a character was the spirited, witty Sylvia McNair as a comically overdressed, slightly clumsy Tytania. Musically meticulous with near-flawless diction, she added to her normally lustrous voice a slight nasal whine to remind us that Tytania - like most royalty - is a bit spoilt.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor