Owen Mortimer

Surrey Opera celebrates Shakespeare’s anniversary

5:34, 21st April 2016

Surrey Opera is marking this year’s Shakespeare’s anniversary with a new staging of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Company member Freda Clark recounts her sense of discovery at her first encounter with the score

How was your love of opera inspired? Do you remember the first opera you ever attended? How does anyone discover classical opera?

One of my Easter viewing highlights included cast interviews for the BBC Four screening of an unusual production of The Passion, devised by Streetwise Opera and The Sixteen, which featured a motley crew of homeless people who were all thoroughly converted to the delights of operatic singing.

After a childhood of light classics, I came to opera through my other half, who began singing in the Surrey Opera chorus. I was asked to help with costumes, and later joined the chorus.

Each new production is a revelation, and the first run-through with the orchestra never fails to thrill. I love watching and hearing singers giving their all, and the way that the music and staging reach deep into the emotions. So I jumped at the chance to promote our forthcoming production of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, based on the William Shakespeare play. I had to listen to a full production to get a feel for the piece – and was completely bowled over.

Britten’s haunting music dragged me into the alien world of ‘Faerie’ as an observer of the chilling quarrel between Oberon and Tytania. The deep-throated strings brought me to that halfway place between reality and their world; I entered into the passion and anguish of the lovers who wandered too close to Faerie borders; I laughed at the jollity of the village thespians, with their earthy banter sounding like a not-quite-harmonious Barber’s Shop sextet. For me, Benjamin Britten is the master of the musicality of everyday life and the vocal cadences of ordinary people.

The story follows Shakespeare’s play of the same name, and the cruel humiliation of Tytania as she makes love to Bottom is made the centrepiece of the opera. Oberon’s countertenor emphasises the incomprehensible ‘otherness’ of this Faerie world, and curiously reminded me of the unexpected otherness of the mansion in The Rocky Horror Show!

Surrey Opera’s artistic director and conductor Jonathan Butcher and designer Jill Wilson are teaming up to create an exciting new touring production of this 20th-century masterpiece.

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Surrey Opera’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be performed at Dorking Halls (10 and 11 June), St Mary Magdalene Church, Croydon (23 June) and the Minack Theatre on the cliffs at Porthcurno, Cornwall (18 to22 July).


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