Oh, this one is just too much fun.
The moment that really establishes the nature of this production occurs when the tradesmen are introduced. The music that plays through it is an absolutely delectable rondeau. Musical Director William Christie shapes the dynamics of the musical score around the movements of the men beautifully. Choreographer Kim Brandstrup has all of them moving as one with that shape. Director Jonathan Kent shows the men as the clowns of the piece but uses the lyricism of the music to reveal the grace in their hearts. It's hilarious and deeply moving all at once. And it's typical of the joys this production holds.
The sets Paul Brown designed for the production are exceptional. The main one resembles an elegant hall of the sort found in Victorian England. The woodwork is ornate, the draperies are lavish and the furnishings are stylish. The piece is comprised of three false walls which can be moved according to the demands of the action. The other major set piece is a backdrop which resembles a burning sky. There's a lift in the centre of the stage that allows actors to be introduced to or removed from the action. The central area of the stage itself is raised above a few steps which surround it. Whenever the walls of the room aren't in use this also allows performers to enter, exit or function as an audience. Mark Henderson's lighting designs keep the eyes moving to wherever the focal point of the action is. They also do an excellent job of keeping the subordinate aspects in view.
The actors are all good but there's a few who stand above the rest. Joseph Millson gives great performance as the imperious 'Oberon'. His enunciation is the best of all the performers. Sally Dexter is convincing as 'Tatania', the strong but vulnerable Queen of the Fairies. Jotham Annan brings a wide eyed naiveté to the character of the mischievous 'Puck'. Susannah Wise ('Hermia'), Helen Bradbury ('Helena'), Oliver Kieran Jones ('Lysander') and Oliver Le Sueur display exemplary comic timing during their ensemble scene in the woods. Desmond Barrit and Robert Burt are nothing short of brilliant in the roles of 'Bottom' and 'Flute'. Burt's turn as 'Thisbe' is so funny has to be seen to be believed. Barrit's character is the funniest man on that stage, period.
The singers are strong and again, there are a few who stand above the rest. Many are young but their lack of seasoning suits the fresh (and slightly impudent) nature of the work. Ed Lyon's voice has a transparent quality and his diction is excellent. His portrayal of 'Adam' is fabulous. Helen-Jane Howells compliments him beautifully as 'Eve'. Her actions during the moments when her fig leaves are heating up are hilarious. Lucy Crowe has a voice that's full and very powerful. Her lower register is strong enough that she could probably sing some of the roles normally assigned to mezzo sopranos. Carolyn Sampson has an agile voice that she uses to great effect throughout the performance. Her rendition of 'O, let me weep' is one of the most moving segments in the production.
There's an abundance of highlights, both musical and dramatic. The scene that prepares 'Tatania' for sleep is a moment of visual brilliance. The rendition of 'If love's a sweet passion' by Lucy Crowe, Ed Lyon and the chorus is ravishing. The sung dialogue between 'Coridon' and 'Mopsa' is pure side-splitting hilarity. 'Now the night is chas'd away (sung by Lucy Crowe and chorus) is musical celebration at its finest. The "play" the tradesmen present is a dog for all seasons and they make an uproarious hash of it. It's brilliant. Only the best actors can do such a convincing job of portraying themselves as bad actors. These are just a few examples from a long list.
Jonathan Kent and William Christie have successfully reinvented a masterpiece and possibly an art form as well. In his notes and in the interview Kent states that 'The Fairy Queen' is impossible to categorize because there's nothing like it now. His vision creates a world where the piece exists apart from time and convention. It heeds the past while embracing the future. As he explains in the interview Christie uses the text and the action to shape the musical dynamics for the production. The result is a work that melds beautifully in all areas. Each note has the right emphasis. The tempi work beautifully. The music pulsates with a life so vibrant it sounds as if it could just have been written.
If there's a complaint with this set it's that there should have been more closeups of the singers, and probably a few more of most of the performers as well. But in view of everything else the complaint is trivial. The photography is excellent and overall, the shoot is good. The piece flows briskly and never appears static. The clarity of the sound superb.
A triumph: nothing more need be said.