A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Sydney Opera House Concert Hall (NSW)
Conducted by Simone Young, Directed and adapted by Eamon Flack
Reviewed by Charlotte Smee
Played at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall Friday 26 and Saturday 27th August, 2022
Belvoir and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra came together to bless the newly renovated Sydney Opera House Concert Hall with fairies, lovers, and clowns galore in the beloved classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Eamon Flack’s adaptation strips away much of Shakespeare’s original dialogue, giving Mendelssohn’s 1842 incidental music a rare chance to take centre stage and shoulder the weight of creating Shakespeare’s best-known waking dream.
Actors, musicians, and singers alike took their seats together for the Overture – with one very tall and cheeky Virginia Gay as Puck sticking out alongside the percussionists. Costumes by Lisa Mimmochi were minimal, matching the ensemble of actors to their tuxedoed and gowned musical colleagues. She also perfectly matched everything from props, to sashes and tutus to the new purple acoustic diffusers dangling from the Hall’s roof. Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s new Chief Conductor Simone Young excellently drew out the serene beauty of the opening winds, as well as the delicate softness of the strings, setting the concert up for a masterclass in light and shade.
As the musical fairies flitted among the violins and violas, large purple flowers made of paper bloomed from within the orchestra, revealing our actor friends. Sarah Meacham, Rose Riley, Jack Scott and George Zhao as the four lovers Helena, Hermia, Demetrius and Lysander emerged and took to the front of the stage to help the orchestra tell their tales of unrequited love through mime. Brigid Zengeni and Tim Walter similarly demonstrated their wish to have the lovers wed as Hippolyta and Theseus. The combination of this energetic ensemble and Young’s vivid interpretation of the Overture and Scherzo was nothing short of delightful.
The first spoken words were uttered by the Mechanicals, the classic crew, led by Bottom and Peter Quince. Scott’s Bottom was hilariously awful, and Zhao in all his roles shone with ridiculousness. Special mention goes to his very angular-armed fairy who carried Titania’s chair in from side stage. Gay as Puck is rough, speedy, and magical, armed with a conductor’s baton that she reverently returns to Young at the Finale. This focus on the magic and comedy of the play brought a lightness to the music, and gave a clear direction that guided young audience members and inexperienced concertgoers alike to let themselves have a giggle when the instruments were as silly as the players.
Soprano Samantha Clarke and mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Scott lead the Cantillation chorus in ‘You spotted snakes’, a dreamy spell over Oberon to protect him from the creatures of the forest. Clarke’s soaring notes were a dreamy accompaniment to the deeper harmonies of the chorus, as if angels really had entered the hall for a moment.
The best thing about this concert was the sheer joy emanating from every player involved. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is gloriously silly, and even though Mendelssohn’s music may not seem silly at first glance, it captures the magic of Shakespeare through contrasting themes and recognisable refrains to which we cling to.
Right from the start, there was no clear divide between actor and musician. Simone Young made her Belvoir acting debut as Snug the Joiner playing Lion in the Mechanicals’ final performance, and so too did cellist Timothy Nankervis as Starveling the Tailor, playing the ever-hilarious Moonshine. Actors and musicians took turns being enthralled by the other’s performance, and with such talent on display it was difficult to keep yourself from smiling with pride.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Simone Young is a fantastical, unique production that brings together two distinct artforms, cleverly highlighting their similarities and differences. A love letter from Mendelssohn to Shakespeare and back again through Eamon Flack, this was even better than the recordings I danced to as a four-year-old fairy in my grandmother’s loungeroom. I hope we see more of this collaboration in the Opera House soon.
Programme MENDELSSOHN A Midsummer Night’s Dream Artists Simone Young conductor Eamon Flack director and adaptor Samantha Clarke soprano Anna Dowsley mezzo-soprano Cantillation chorus Cast VIRGINIA GAY Puck SARAH MEACHAM Helena & Others ROSE RILEY Hermia & Others JACK SCOTT Demetrius, Bottom & Others BRIGID ZENGENI Titania/Hippolyta & Others TIM WALTER Theseus/Oberon & Others GEORGE ZHAO Lysander, Peter Quince & Others
Presented by Sydney Symphony Orchestra in collaboration with Belvoir St Theatre