Aldeburgh Festival attracts a big audience from the capital, being an easy hop from Liverpool Street or up the A12, and it marks 50 years of music at Snape Maltings, amid the whispery fields and fingers of water that trickle to the sea, with an enchanted performance of a magical opera.
A Midsummer Night's Dream was written by the festival's founder, composer Benjamin Britten for the festival's first and more modest home. Blessed with some of the best singers in Britain today, it was the perfect opera with which to launch Snape's golden jubilee.
Making a virtue of its shallow concert stage, the exciting young director Netia Jones employed the projections with which she had brought many an opera to life in a limited space. Here she conjures up Shakespeare's forest at night with images of ghostly trails of foliage and nocturnal animals, the transparency and colourlessness of photographic negatives seen too in the fairies, eyeless, pigment-free shadows that never glimpse the sun.
When the fairy king Oberon, in his neat, neutral separates, says he is invisible he disappears among this silvery-grey tracery. And in this role, countertenor Iestyn Davies is superlative, cool in manner, punishing his adoring, wayward servant Puck with invisible powers, but warm-toned in Britten's ravishing music.
As Tytania, soprano Sophie Bevan, her gauzy veil supported by antlers, is also wonderful, firing platinum arrows of sound into the tree canopy. Her erstwhile lover, Bottom the weaver with his ass's ears, is towering, reliable bass Matthew Rose, arriving by bicycle, bagging all the parts in the working men's play, booming his baffled desires.
Diction is never a problem with these singers normally, so perhaps there is something in the acoustics of Snape Maltings or, more likely, this temporary staging that eats consonants. Britten's own adaptation of Shakespeare's play, with his partner, the tenor Peter Pears, is so skilful to miss a single word is a loss.
Ryan Wigglesworth conducting, himself the composer of a Shakespeare-inspired The Winter's Tale for English National Opera, spun this perfect musical cobweb with love and care, the Aldeburgh Festival Orchestra not suffering in its articulation from the acoustic problems of the vowelly singers.
The quality of the music – and the sculpture – make it easy to be nostalgic for the creativity and optimism of the postwar period. But with election results still filtering through on first night and a political shift in the balmy night air, interval conversations were punctuated with talk of a new era. If it produces a new Britten, Pears or Hepworth, it will all have been worth it.
A Midsummer Night's Dream is sung in English. Apply for returns, or sample opera at Aldeburgh with Britten's Billy Budd on 24-25 June. Next year's Aldeburgh Festival runs from c8 June to c24 June 2018.
|What||A Midsummer Night's Dream review, Aldeburgh Festival|
|Nearest tube||Liverpool Street (underground)|
09 Jun 17 – 14 Jun 17, 6:00 PM – 10:15 PM
|Price||£10 - £48|
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|