Gidycz Reviews: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Dan Gidycz, MBA Class of 2014

A casual fan of The Opera, I often avail myself of the Met’s steeply discounted student tickets. (metoperafamily.org) I find a certain enjoyment in listening to a man who sings with overwhelming force, filling an enormous concert hall – besting the din of a full orchestra – on subjects dear to me such as demons, murder, betrayal, lust… I freely admit that it’s not for everyone, but it gets me going.

And then there’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play with which I’m quite familiar, and think know is hilarious. I wasn’t exactly sure what would be involved in what I expected to be a comedic opera, but figured it must share at least some of those things I enjoy. Certainly the lust, right?

So imagine my surprise when I arrived at the Met’s revival of its 1996 production of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and found a three hour wilting lullaby sung to me by a prepubescent choir. While most adaptations of the play remove the longwinded pixie poetry, Britten had apparently elected to instead remove all the funny parts.

Even if you find yourself in an opera that’s a little on the slow side, The Met’s liberal use of blood, fire and elaborate staging mean that usually you can keep your head in the production, but this dive into the 1990’s view of modernity wouldn’t allow the immersion into a magical forest for which I had hoped.  I was suddenly transported to a weird neon and blacklight hell, more reminiscent of a haunted house (so, at least it was seasonally appropriate) than enchanted forest. They may have thought the metaphorical design made the set feel like a dreamscape, but my only dream was that someone was going nuts with the day-glo spray paint.

I also spent a huge portion of the evening wondering why the hell Puck had wings. I was screaming in my mind, “Why was this production put on by people who hate the play on which it is based?”

Accustomed to librettos in German, French and Italian, I was interested to attend my first opera in English, and then devastated to discover that I apparently don’t speak that language at all. So there I was reading my Met Titles in a language I ostensibly speak with fluency (content of this newspaper notwithstanding). I’m not sure who should be embarrassed, but I’m going to blame this one on my 10th grade English teacher. Because I didn’t like her at all.

This performance marked my first exposure to a countertenor, which is apparently Italian for, “sings only the notes that hurt your ears.”

And, most importantly, how did they manage to take a man with an ass’ head and make him unfunny? I’m chuckling to myself just writing the words ‘ass head’! I watched a man walk out after the first act, handing his tickets to a pair of girls to offer them his much superior view for the remainder of the show.  I thought to myself, “What a fool! He’ll miss the hilarious ass head parts!” And how outrageously wrong I was! Perhaps someday I’ll be as wealthy and wise as this man, not only having the means to sit up close, but the sense not to.

Bewildered and hurt, I turned to The Internet (™) in search of reviews of this revival. Surely others felt the same sense of betrayal. They did this to Shakespeare!

But alas, it seems that those people who actually can tell their ass’ head from their elbows when it comes to opera, knew exactly what they were getting into, and further, thought that the Met was doing a bang-up job of sucking the joy out of one of the most celebrated pieces of comedy in the history of the English language. Zachary Woolfe from the Times described it as “a clever, effective show,” and someone else probably described it as “totally not that boring,” but I have to disagree with both real and hypothetical critic alike. I failed to see the wit, since Britten had apparently opted to completely derail the quick bantering insults and innuendo that make the source material great in favor of dragging the pace to a point where I thought for sure the child-choir’s voices would change before we reached the end. And it proved its efficacy only in making me sleepy. Which I guess makes sense, since it was mostly lullabies.

Now who’s the ass head?

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