Tim Albery's production underscores this darkness, particularly Antony McDonald's stupendous sets. In Act I, they scroll toward the left, fairyland becoming forest and then deeper forest, an increasingly nightmarish trajectory: the "woods" where Lysander and Hermia bicker are depicted as craggy mountains with dark clouds, like Chuck Jones doing Wagner; by Act's end, the woods are lighted a wicked Ecto-Cooler green. Act II is set within canted, German Expressionist walls, leading me to write in my notebook, "WHAT WOOD IS THIS?!"
Comic relief does arrive, from the company of actors preparing their Pyramus and Thisby production. Matthew Rose as Bottom steals the show, particularly once he has been transformed into an ass: his voice cracks, his legs kick out suddenly, as though he really can't control them. You suspect the actor may have really been the victim of a faerie spell. These interludes are necessary respites from Britten's otherwise very serious exploration of love. The play's happy ending here feels hard-won rather than inevitable, the music taking on well-earned majesty, grace and beauty. In the theater as in life—love is not usually so light.
The Met's last performance of the opera this season is on Halloween. More info here.
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