In an age in which Britten’s take on Shakespeare can morph into a disquisition on paedophilia at directorial whim, Peter Hall’s celebrated production, first seen in 1981, risks seeming like a relic from a different age. That the show works so well in this revival says much about the skill of the original team in creating a magical realm in the service of the score, sufficient unto itself.
Aspects that were once innovative – the trees in constant movement and a forest design concept in blue-black and silver – remain striking, while unsuspected warmth and humanity is found in Britten’s score.
The Glyndebourne venue itself contributes not a little to the success of the evening, even if patrons take a while to settle during the druggy opening glissandi.
Back inside, the intimations of cruelty are never overplayed by a mostly experienced cast including veterans of the Met Opera’s 2013 revival and past participants in the present show.
Young David Evans is arguably the hero of the night. A late substitution as the non-singing, morally ambiguous Puck, he is strikingly confident and challengingly un-posh. Towering over him is counter-tenor Tim Mead’s well projected, suitably unearthly Oberon. Matthew Rose reprises his virile and booming Bottom.
It is not easy to make much of the human lovers, and Kate Royal’s vibrato is becoming the dominant feature of her Helena. Vocally speaking, Elizabeth DeShong’s Hermia fares better with a nice line in physical comedy.
The rustics’ play within a play represents Britten at his feeblest but, as throughout, the present team members give it their all. And Puck gets the last word.