A fierce opera: University lyric theater performs ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

The Rustics gather to search for Bottom during a rehearsal of “A Midsummer’s Nights Dream” in the Tryon Festival Theatre at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana on Tuesday, February 16, 2016.

By Mariah Schaefer

As part of its Shakespeare-focused season, the “Lyric Theatre @ Illinois” performed the opera “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” from Feb. 18-21 at the Krannert Center’s Tryon Festival Theatre.

When Nathan Gunn, the general director of “Lyric Theatre @ Illinois,” approached stage director Christopher Gillett, Gillett first considered how to adapt the material before agreeing to direct the opera.

Because he had never directed an opera before, Gillett drew on his 38-year experience as a singer and approached the directing process, always asking himself what would make him feel confident if he were part of the cast of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Though the Lyric Theatre’s interpretation of the famous play, written circa 1595, differed from the original portrayal, the story remained the same. Gillett settled on a version that took place at an American high school in fictional Athens, New Hampshire. The characters were divided into cliques, with Theseus and Hyppolyta as prom king and queen and the Rustics theatre group as “nerds.” The fairies were dressed as scouts, and this adaptation allowed for Girl Scout cookies to be sold in the lobby during intermission.

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“The important thing is to tell the story in a way that not only the performers will get and can relate to, but the audience too will understand,” Gillett said.

Because of the mystical nature of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Gillett said that unrealism gave him the license to explore his interpretation of the opera.

The production, from the opera singers to the UI Symphony Orchestra, was student-run.

Conductor Filippo Ciabatti, a doctoral candidate in orchestral conducting at the University, said the singers and the orchestra had to first prepare separately before they could put the production together.

“I hope that all of these elements concur to a unique and specific, peculiar way of telling this story through the music,” Ciabatti said. “In opera, the music cannot be separated by the show, and the show cannot be separated from the music. That’s what, in my opinion, makes this form of art so peculiar, so unique. It’s interesting.”

That cohesion was noticeable in the Friday presentation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” As the orchestra played in the pit of the Tryon Festival Theatre, the opera singers performed Shakespeare’s story on stage, creating a symbiotic relationship.

“All of the aesthetics on stage are really cool,” said Sarah Bales, senior in LAS. “It’s really funny. I like Puck; he might be my favorite character.”

Bales said this was her first time seeing a work by Shakespeare performed live. She had read some of Shakepeare’s plays in high school, but she never had a chance to read “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Bales said she thought attending the opera “just seemed like a fun idea.”

Xin He, a first-year piano performance doctoral student in FAA, also attended the Friday presentation to support her classmate Yichen Li, who played Oberon. This was her first time going to the opera at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

“I think it’s really a good opportunity to get to learn our student performers here,” He said. “Because they are students, so I think they already did a great job tonight.”

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