Bernard Lee (Sheffield Telegraph, August 2013
If you were planning to go to Britten’s opera and haven’t got tickets, check availability.
The opening night was a sell out, albeit with many paying on the door. The reception at the end was noisy to say the least and the large cast, without an exception, merited the adulation.
It is superbly sung throughout and a fair number of individual performances would not be out of place on the professional opera stage. Having said that, most of the largely Sheffield based young cast already sing in a professional capacity. A big break must surely beckon sooner or later.There are so many fine performances, space would soon be gobbled up even beginning to mention them and there are other issues to consider.
It is impossible to avoid mentioning one as it surrounds the controversial casting of a mezzo-soprano as Oberon, a role Britten wrote specifically for the pioneering counter-tenor Alfred Deller. Consequently, the part lies low for a mezzo and is to Rosie Middleton’s eternal credit that she copes with the tessitura magnificently. Naturally, though, without the ethereal quality Britten had in mind. The decision was based on director Louise Pymer’s production concept for the work, which doesn’t unduly get in the way of Britten’s conception, just shifts the emphasis a little.
It remains instantly recognisable Shakespeare and the production moves fluently with some nice touches and is splendidly acted and, indeed, the opera does work extremely well in the unlikely space. Sadly, Britten’s highly atmospheric instrumental score is barely recognisable on a piano for all the sterling efforts of Ewan Gilford. They simply couldn’t afford an orchestra.
How one is missed throughout to portray the infinitesimal layering of subtly shifting colours and harmonies that give the work its quality of magic. The uniform strength of the singing is some compensation.