"Dream" Comes to Life in Lowell Opera

From the first strains of the floating strings and bells to the fade-in of the colored lights, the cast and crew of the Lowell House Opera’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” transports the audience from dining hall to library to forest. The music, lights, acting, and set design are so effective in creating the intersection of fairy realm and reality that they raise the question, as Puck asks, if the play truly is “no more yielding than a dream.”

This production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which will play until Saturday in Lowell House dining hall, uses Benjamin Britten’s original score. This year marks the centennial of the composer’s birth and also the 75th anniversary of the Lowell House Opera’s existence. The soaring music, performed by the Lowell House Opera orchestra under the direction of Lidiya Yankovskaya, acts almost as another versatile character, adding dimension to the play by underscoring the characters’ lines. Each actor’s entrances and scenes are marked by specific sound effects from the orchestra. Eerie bells and strings accentuate Oberon’s (Gerrod Pagenkopf) quiet yet overwhelming power, whereas the out-of-control, mischievous character of Puck (Joshua R. Wortzel ’13) is supported by the bolder brass instruments and drums. Bottom the Weaver’s (Matthew Wight) transformation into a donkey is accompanied by braying sounds from the wind instruments in the orchestra.

Though the set is not conventional, the scenery certainly helps bring the opera to life. Set and lighting designer Mark Buchanan converted the dining hall into a decorative library in which the human portion of the opera takes place, framing the elaborate chandelier—a permanent presence in the dining hall—with staircases on either side leading to upper levels and a white-washed lattice for the back wall. Costume designer Kristen Connolly accentuated the set’s collegiate appearance by dressing the Athenians in gear befitting university students, with blouses and skirts for the girls and jackets adorned with Greek letters for the men. However, as the opera enters the fairies’ domain, the front lights dim and colored lights illuminate the back wall, bringing an ethereal forest realm to life.

Stage director Roxanna K. Myhrum ’05 did an exceptional job blocking each scene, utilizing the unique space to its full advantage. Two characters central to the play are the fairy king and queen, Oberon and Tytania (Liv A. Redpath ’14), who are in conflict with each other over Tytania’s possession of a changeling child that Oberon wants. To convey both their positions of power and their antagonistic purposes, Myhrum frequently stages Oberon and Tytania in opposite upper galleries. The finally-united couples are placed at either side of the central chandelier, framing the play symmetrically at the end of the opera.

The performers weave their singing with a passionate commitment to portraying their characters convincingly. Redpath sings powerfully and authoritatively as Tytania. She embodies a stateliness and gravity in the fairy world but also a sudden love for Bottom the Weaver as a donkey. At the same time, Pagenkopf conveys Oberon’s power not through sheer volume but through a quiet force, mirroring his calm, slow-moving, yet intense voice with a smoothness and stoicism in his acting and his movements. His display of power culminates as he berates Puck for choosing the wrong Athenian to put under a spell—and thus causing the love confusion central to the plot—all the while staring straight at the audience as Puck lies convulsing on the ground.

Sophie Michaux as Hermia and Sean Malkus as Lysander, against a background of sweeping, romantic music, convey their love at the beginning of the opera so thoroughly that once Lysander is made to fall in love with Helena instead, the heartbreak in Hermia’s voice as she cries, “Oh! Lord!” is distinctly audible. Wortzel, who plays Puck, the only character in the opera without any singing lines, is outstanding at bringing the character vividly to life through his movements. As the opera progresses, he transforms from proper dress to a costume including war paint and a shirt tied as a toga. Wortzel’s cackling laughter and his wild, infectious energy as he runs and jumps from one side of the set to the other accentuates Puck’s character even when he is not speaking.

From the music to the lighting, from the set to the actors and actresses, the careful attention to detail present in every aspect of the opera creates a fantastic and riveting performance of Britten’s arrangement of the Shakespeare play.

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