This weekend, take the opportunity to watch a literal fairy tale unfold here in New Haven with Yale Opera’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The production, which utilizes William Shakespeare’s text and music by Benjamin Bratten, is the opera’s annual Shubert Theater show.
The Bard’s comedy, written at the end of the 16th century, is set in Athens. The story begins with preparations for the Athenian duke Theseus and Amazonian queen Hippolyta’s wedding and soon introduces a love square, of sorts, tinted by unrequited love, wounded pride and parental mandates. Parallel narratives describe the adventures of a group of craftsmen rehearsing a play to be performed at the royal wedding and the intricacies of the majestic woodland spirits.
The production, which involves every singer in the Yale Opera, also includes 14 children from St. Andrews in Fairfield and Christ Church in Greenwich in its chorus. Director Marc Verzatt said that while the children are “charming, creative and highly professional,” working with such energetic performers has been slightly exhausting for him.
“They don’t really behave like your average children; they’re more like the kids from ‘Lord of the Flies,'” he said.
Still, the children’s rambunctiousness is just one of the aspects that adds life to the production. This version, with libretto by Peter Pears and Bratten’s score, was first performed in 1960 but does not conform to the atonal and modernist trends of that time. Additionally, though this version remains true to Shakespeare and the lighthearted mood of the play, Verzatt is proud of the freshness of the production and the poise of the performers.
It seems, however, that the cast and crew of “Midsummer” have experienced as much mayhem as the enchanted lovers of their play.
On top of a flu mini-epidemic that Verzatt said afflicted “nearly everyone on the cast,” the actors and crew members have had even more serious setbacks. Sundry physical injuries (incurred outside of rehearsal), from Puck’s torn meniscus to a lighting technician’s broken neck, have placed stress on the members of the production. In fact, a bass singer’s emergency appendectomy forced him to withdraw, leaving Verzatt and artistic director Doris Cross to tap a former Yale Opera member as a replacement.
But, after a few reshufflings and adjustments, the show will make its proud debut this Friday. The show must go on — braces, bandages and all.
“It’s not your ordinary run-of-the-mill opera. It’s not just a lot of people standing around and singing,” Verzatt said. “I hate to attach the word ‘sophisticated’ to it, but it’s well beyond a farce.”
Despite all the bumps in the journey, or perhaps because of them, the directors are eager to share their creation with the Yale community. The show is innovative musically, dramatically and vocally, Cross said, and it stays faithful to the Shakespearean story. Verzatt is also confident that the production doesn’t deviate too far from the classic play.
“You can’t go wrong turning Shakespeare into an opera,” Verzatt said. “This is more than just a comedy; it’s a very intriguing story. The different social strati that come together in this story — the fairy world, the mixed-up quartet of lovers and the group of handyworkers putting on a play — speaks to what a romantic relationship really is.”
Cross does not select which play will be performed until she has selected all of the singers that will appear in it. This method allows her to tailor the actor to the part, she said.
And in this tale, in which a significant portion of the characters fall under the spell of magic potions and fairy charms, the players each take a significant share of the spotlight.
“These are all leading roles, every one of them,” Cross said. “Each person has important bits to do.”