* Notes *
Festival Opera's delightful production of A Midsummer Night's Dream opened last Saturday in Walnut Creek. Michael Morgan and Mark Foeringer did a fine job with the direction, the choreography never lagged and fit the music well. The sinuous dancing was not perfectly synchronized, but was enchanting nonetheless. The flying effects used for Puck were perfect for the role, and could have stolen the whole show had the singing and acting been weak. Peter Crompton's set is simple but charming, consisting of large upstage constellation map, many pieces of cloth with the same print hanging from the ceiling, and various platforms again with this design on them. The costumes, by Susanna Douthit, dated from the early seventies. The fairies looked like they came off of the playa in their wings, sequins, and shiny tights. Denise Gutierrez complimented this with glittery makeup and a few candy-colored wigs. I was reminded of the Om Shanti Om, perhaps only because that was the last movie I've seen set in the seventies. It was a bit funny when the singers made reference to Athens, as they were all dolled up for the disco, but this was not terribly distracting.
The orchestra sounded fine to me, but I do not know this particular opera at all, and the music occasionally made my joints hurt. There were a few moments when the singers and orchestra were not together, but these were mostly in Act I. The chorus sang nicely, and the four soloists were all solid. Katie Behnke was exceedingly bell-like as Mustardseed.
The rest of the rather large cast was fairly good. Igor Vieira and Lauren Groff were well-matched vocally in the roles of Theseus and Hippolyta. Vieira was overwhelmed by the orchestra, but he ended well. Groff certainly looked like an Amazonian queen, even in a beaded-fringe gown. The rustics were completely wonderful, the voices of Joshua Elder (Starveling), Trey Costerisan (Snout), John Bischoff (Snug), Jonathan Smucker (Flute), John Minágro (Quince), and Kirk Eichelberger (Bottom) blended nicely and the comic timing was perfect. Bischoff was particularly resonant, he drew out his words well. Eichelberger was again rather loud, as he was for Il Trovatore, but this brashness suited the role of Bottom better than Ferrando. His acting was impeccable.
The four lovers were not evenly matched, Stacey Cornell was quieter as Helena than Nikolas Nackley as Demetrius and Jessica Mariko Deardorff was louder as Hermia than Jorge Garza as Lysander. Cornell was shrill and shaky at the beginning but had some lovely moments later on. The role of Hermia sat better in Deardorff's voice than Ines (Il Trovatore).
I was most disappointed by Willam Sauerland as Oberon. His voice is sweet and pleasingly girlish, but he was quiet. His voice cracked during Act II, but besides this his transitions between head voice and chest voice were smooth. Thankfully, Ani Maldjian was a splendid Tytania. Not only did she somehow look gorgeous in a fuchsia sequined tube-top, she sounded lucid and ethereal.
* Tattling *
For the second performance, the house had a few empty seats, so I assume getting tickets, should you want them, will not be a problem. The audience was rude, there was much talking and a loud cellular phone rang during Act II on the right aisle of the center section, sixth row back.
I had the misfortune of being in front of two very noisy men of a certain age, who began the evening by exclaiming about all the grey-hair in the audience. I did try to hush them when they spoke during the music, but they could not be quiet. Apparently they were friends of John Minágro, and one of them kept pointing him out every time he appeared on stage. I learned that Minágro made the sword used in the production, as this was stated more than once.