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Princeton Festival’s Magical Dream

McCarter Matthews Theatre
06/20/2009 -  & June 28, 2009
Benjamin Britten: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Daniel Bubeck (Oberon), Jennifer Zetlan (Tytania), Dean Anthony (Puck), Tyler Duncan (Demetrius), Abigail Nims (Hermia), Caroline Worra (Helena), Brian Stucki (Lysander), Jeremy Galyon (Theseus), Rebecca Ringle (Hippolyta), Douglas Perry (Flute), Curtis Streetman (Bottom), Brian Banion (Quince), Jeremy Milner (Snug), John Daniecki (Snout), Michael Redding (Starveling)
The Princeton Festival Orchestra, Richard Tang Yuk (conductor)
Jayme Mellema (set designer), Marie Miller (Costume designer), Norman Coates (lighting designer), Steven LaCosse (stage director)

D. Anthony & T. Duncan (© Jessica B. Fanko)

Opera has been at the center of the Princeton Festival since its founding four years ago. After producing popular operas like Madama Butterfly, Carmen and La Bohème, the festival is performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Strongly cast and imaginatively staged, Benjamin Britten’s opera takes the festival to a new level of achievement.

From the moment the eerie theme associated with Oberon and the fairies emerges from the orchestra pit, this Dream takes magical flight. Jayme Mellema’s sets – images of a light-flecked woods and starry constellations projected onto hanging cloth panels – conjure up a mood of moonlight and mystery. Marie Miller’s fanciful costumes enhance the atmosphere. Director Steven LaCosse exploits the visual backdrop to unfold the action simply and effectively. LaCosse emphasizes the physicality of Shakespeare’s play in his fast-paced, energetic staging. The fairies – played skillfully by the Princeton Festival’s Children Chorus – are fanciful and fun. The rustics caper with abandon. Passion courses through the lovers’ scenes. Theseus and Hippolyta add a courtly note to the wedding celebration.

This Dream sounds as good as it looks. Richard Tang Yuk, the festival’s music director, leads a taut musical performance that catches the rhythmic impetus and instrumental colors in Britten’s magical score. The orchestra plays with refinement and precision. The singing is solid and filled with character. Capering and tumbling across the stage, Dean Anthony makes a physical Puck. Anthony’s winning performance adds some visual excitement. Daniel Bubeck (Oberon) and Jennifer Zetlan (Tytania) sing sweetly in the more lyrical portions of the fairy scenes, although their voices sound a bit stressed in the full-voiced climaxes.

The voices of the four lovers are notable for their firm tone and technical polish. Tyler Duncan (Demetrius), and Abigail Nims (Hermia) sing with spirit and energy. So do Brian Stucki (Lysander) and Caroline Worra (Helena). Under Tang Yuk’s pliant baton, the four singers turn the exquisite third-act quartet into a vocal highlight. As Theseus and his bride, Hippolyta, Jeremy Galyon and Rebecca Rangle add noble charm and rich voices to the performance. The rustics round out a top-notch cast. Curtis Streetman exploits his firm baritone and outgoing stage manner to make a strongly etched Bottom. Brian Banion (Quince) directs the rehearsals for Pyramus and Thisbe with aplomb. Impersonating the heroine, Thisbe, in a toga and outlandish yellow wig, Douglas Perry (Flute) gives a capital interpretation. Rounding out the sextet are Jeremy Milner (Snug), John Daniecki (Snout) and Michael Redding (Starveling). Adding to the charm of the performance are Adam Butz-Weidner, Joel Pena, Reed Schmidt and William Christensen as the four trebles in Tytania’s retinue.

Robert Baxter



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