“Out of this wood do not desire to go!” Tytania orders Bottom. Glyndebourne's revival of Peter Hall's classic production of A Midsummer Night's Dream is eerily enchanting, weaving its spell right from the queasy cello and double bass glissandos, which slither into Britten's score. In John Bury's designs, the wood is shrouded by night, shafts of dappled light illuminating the black lacquered floor. Boughs creak, leaves rustle and you eventually realise the whole forest is living and breathing, populated by human trees and bushes swaying and sliding into position. I simply had no desire to leave.
Hall's stylish 1981 production receives its ninth revival. It is completely faithful to Britten and Pears' well-filleted libretto in which Shakespeare's genius isn't dimmed one kilowatt. Fairies don doublet and hose, wings and ruffs. Tim Mead's Oberon and Kathleen Kim's Tytania boast silvery wigs knotted like gossamer spider webs, Mead's towering to giddy heights. David Evans' robust Puck comes with a rude shock of coppery hair. Paul Pyant's delicate lighting reflects on the black polished surfaces to create an almost rippled, watery effect. This is a highly stylised fairyland in which danger lurks round every mossy corner. Oberon's rough treatment of Puck hints – but merely hints – at something sinister, and Tytania commands her attendants (the excellent Trinity Boys Choir) with haughty elegance.
The human element is warmer: the four lovers lost in the wood, dressed in courtly garb, dart and parry lightly in their emotional duels, while the Mechanicals are good-natured without unleashing buffoonish comedy until their Pyramus and Thisby play is finally performed. The woodland sidles off in Act III, replaced by the glass-framed court of newly married Theseus and Hippolyta, the final fairy blessing – strewn with glitter – taking place in stately fashion before Puck comes to sweep it all away and beg our forgiveness.
Glyndebourne has gathered a remarkably strong cast for this revival, directed by Lynne Hockney, the original choreographer. Tim Mead's Oberon has a cool glint to the top of his register, but gorgeously honeyed lower notes, well-projected. Kathleen Kim stretched for Tytania's stratospheric high notes a little gingerly, but was impressive, particularly in her exchanges with Matthew Rose's charming Bottom. Sometimes played as overtly pompous, Bottom was here a more lovable character, a good-natured cove. Rose possesses one of the most beautiful bass voices around today and his Bottom tickled the ear. His fellow Mechanicals were a well-knit team, headed by David Soar's grounded Peter Quince and Anthony Gregory's winsome Flute, delighting in Britten's Donizetti parody as Thisby laments her Pyramus.
Benjamin Hulett's lyric tenor was the perfect fit for gentle Lysander, while Duncan Rock's firm baritone made for an heroic-sounding Demetrius. The warm, burnt caramel mezzo of Elizabeth DeShong excelled as a feisty Hermia, while Kate Royal's Helena provided the only disappointment, swallowing words and suffering from a dangerously wide vibrato. However, she played up the humour of Helena's indignant rage nicely. There was also a richly regal Hippolyta from Claudia Huckle. Top marks though – and the loudest audience cheers – went to young David Evans for his impish, impudent Puck, clearly enunciated and acrobatically acted. What a talent!
Fresh from his wonderful Glyndebourne Vixen, where he “coaxed every growl, chirrup and rustle from Janáček's shimmering score”, Jakub Hrůša replaced an indisposed Kazushi Ono in the pit, drawing wiry string playing from the reduced London Philharmonic Orchestra. As in the Janáček, Britten's woodland bristles with detail from the piccolo lark calls to glistening percussion and Hrůša brought the score to vivid life. The final harpsichord-flecked chorus always chokes me and there was no exception here, Mead, Kim and the Trinity Boys Choir singing it most 'trippingly'. What joy! I'd have sat through it all again immediately.
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