August 28, 2012

On March 20, 2001 the RSC and the City of London Sinfonia (CLS) combined for a single performance of Midsummer Night's Dream. The performance was staged at Barbican Hall to mark the CLS's 30th anniversary and combined Shakespeare's text with Mendelssohn's 1843 score.

The conductor was Richard Hickox and Jonathan Best was the director.

From The Times - March 23, 2001 - Geoff Brown:

"The scene is set in a late Victorian drawing room, easy chairs, cushions, plants strewn about. Behind, members of the City of London Sinfonia , their music director Richard Hickox and the brightly coloured Joyful Company of Singers. In the audience: rows of black suits, Dame Janet Baker (the Sinfonia 's president) and the rest of us, all gathered to celebrate the Sinfonia 's 30th anniversary with a semi-staged gala of A Midsummer Night's Dream, complete with the Mendelssohn trimmings.

And the ten actors, doubling parts in hazy Victorian costumes, scripts in hand. Microphones placed at the platform edge and the natural stentorian gifts of Royal Shakespeare Company members combined to produce the kind of loud, ringing voices that once launched British battleships. Desmond Barrit's Bottom was a real bellower, and the way Alex Jennings's Oberon snarled "Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania" was enough to produce the shivers. How could Mendelssohn's fairy scamperings survive alongside?

For all their clean, spirited playing, Hickox and the CLS did not have many interpretative niceties to offer. The evening's musical value lay more in the chance to experience Mendelssohn's goodies slotted into their proper place: not just the familiar chunks, but the wisps of accompaniment here and there, and the magical echoes of old friends such as the overture's first bars, used to signal Titania's awakening in Act IV. No selection gained so much from its context as the intermezzo, its worried mood and sinuous colours a perfect complement to the lovers' confusions at the end of Act II.

Here as elsewhere, Hickox relished the composer's instrumental kaleidoscope. Even the poor, abused Wedding March emerged bright and perky. What the evening lacked, perhaps, was the gossamer touch, something to make the ears really sit up. For a 30th anniversary gala evening, it was a pity that the Sinfonia were not more at the festivities' centre.

As it was, the RSC actors dominated easily, sprawling about on their plush furnishings, running round the auditorium, firing off hit-and-miss interpretations (Ian Hughes's Puck was annoyingly earthbound). The director Jonathan Best and the choreographer Victoria Pritchard performed modest wonders in the space available, though a restraining hand on David Tennant's Thisbe would have been helpful."

Desmond Barrit* - Bottom
Samantha Bond - Titania/Hippolyta
Robert Gillespie - Starveling
Paul Greenwood - Peter Quince
Ian Hughes - Puck
Mali Harries - Hermia
Alex Jennings -Oberon/Theseus
Adam Levy** - Demetrius/Snug
Emily Raymond - Helena
David Tennant - Thisbe/Lysander/Flute