Two pairs of young lovers, more or less frustrated, flee into the woods to escape conventions and demands and to find their true selves. But the forest is a place not only of freedom, fancy and dreams but also nightmares, chaos and folly. This is the domain of Oberon and his queen Titania, who are in the middle of a marital crisis so serious that nature itself is in a state of imbalance.
With his lifelong companion Peter Pears, Benjamin Britten transformed Shakespeare’s play into an operatic libretto and wrote its beautiful, enchanting music. Sorcery, entanglements and distorted perceptions of reality mean that everything is turned upside down for those seeking love in the woods. In Royal Swedish Opera’s new production of Shakespeare’s comic fantasy, a forest is more a psychological location than a physical one. Under the baton of Simon Crawford Phillips and stage direction of Tobias Theorell, the merry tale is transformed into an exploration of the subconscious.
Rodrigo Sosa Dal Pozzo
Therese Badman Stenius
Royal Swedish Opera Chorus
Royal Swedish Orchestra
Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears
after William Shakespeare
Simon Crawford Phillips
Oberon and Titania have quarrelled over a boy whom Titania refuses to relinquish to her husband. Oberon decides to punish her and sends Puck in search of a magic flower. Four young people appear: Hermia and Lysander wish to marry but are about to elope as Hermia’s father has decided that she must marry Demetrius. Helena, who loves Demetrius, has told him about Hermia and Lysander’s elopement, so he decides to follow them into the woods. Oberon decides that, with the aid of the magic flower, he will be able to make Demetrius reciprocate Helena’s love. Six carpenters, led by Quince and Bottom, meet to prepare a play which they hope to perform in front of Theseus and Hippolyta, to celebrate their wedding. Oberon squeezes the juice of the magic flower into the sleeping Titania’s eyes: when she awakes she will fall in love with the first creature that she sees.
Bottom and his companions rehearse their play. Puck transforms Bottom into an ass. Titania awakes, sees Bottom, and is enraptured. She summons her maids, who will wait on her new lover, and then she and Bottom fall asleep. Oberon observes this with satisfaction, but is angry when he discovers that Puck has confused Demetrius with Lysander. Oberon tries to correct Puck’s mistake by dropping the juice of the magic flower in Demetrius’ eyes: the two men who were in love with Hermia now both love Helena. Helena does not believe in their declarations of love. Instead, she thinks that Lysander and Demetrius are mocking her. When the four lovers quarrel violently, Oberon orders Puck to separate them and restore order. After the four have fallen asleep, Puck drops a different potion in Lysander’s eye, which will make him love Hermia when he wakes up.
Oberon, now in possession of the disputed boy, is prepared to make peace with Titania. He frees her from her infatuation and husband and wife are reconciled. The four young people wake up: love is restored between Hermia and Lysander; Helena and Demetrius declare their love for each other. They decide to ask Theseus’s permission to marry. The carpenters lament the loss of their friend Bottom and the inevitable cancellation of their play. But Bottom, now restored to normal, joins his friends, and they can continue to prepare for their play. Theseus pardons the young lovers and gives them permission to marry. He then invites the carpenters to perform their entertainment at his and Hippolyta’s wedding reception. When midnight strikes, Theseus declares that it is time for bed. Oberon, Titania, the fairies and Puck appear and give their blessing.