Shakespeare in bed
The operatic version of one of the Bard’s classics comes to China 25 years after becoming a hit in France, Chen Nan reports.
The production of Benjamin Britten’s opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream will present Beijing audiences with the sexiest adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play.>
When Canadian director Robert Carsen presents his production of Benjamin Britten’s opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Beijing this weekend, audiences will have a chance to watch the sexiest adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play.
With a giant bed dominating the stage, gigantic pillows as great symbols of dreaming and green bedclothes as a metaphor for the forest, the production was a major hit when it premiered at the 1991 Festival d’Aix-en-Provence in France.
“This is the first time we take it to China, to Asia,” says Carsen. “This is a big adventure.”
During the past 25 years, Carsen has taken the opera to many places. And last year the well-traveled production returned to the place where it all began.
“You never know if the audiences will like it when you work on it. It was a wonderful evening in Provence (in 1991). It was the beginning of a very long life of the production,” says Carsen. “We have the same excitement every time we do it. The show has to be as good as it can be.”
Carsen, 62, was once an actor and plays two roles in the play, Francis Flute and Demetrius. “It’s a play about young people, magic, sex, dangers and passion. It’s an erotic comedy. That’s quite unusual,” he adds, calling the opera one of his favorite productions.
As a part of the ongoing 19th Beijing Music Festival, an annual classical music event held in the capital, the three-act opera is a tribute marking the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. It is coproduced with the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, with which the BMF has signed a five-year contract.
The China Philharmonic Orchestra will perform under the baton of conductor Steuart Bedford. The cast includes Laura Claycomb as Tytania, Lawrence Zazzo as Oberon and members of the Trinity Boys Choir as fairies.
“Opera in China has become more and more significant. There are growing audiences,” says Carsen. “Iam always interested in the East, like India and Japan. Now I take this project to China.”
Born in Toronto and obsessed with theater from a young age, Carsen went to England to study acting at the age of 19.
“It was like being in a movie. I was writing in an exam at university in Toronto. I looked at everybody else and I thought: ‘What I am doing?’. This is not what I want.
“Then I just drove home and my mother was very surprised. I told her I am leaving for London tomorrow. I got a plane ticket, I packed a bag and I left,” he recalls.
“It’s the only real brave thing I have ever done in my life. I didn’t know anybody in England. But I knew I had to do this.
“I always follow my instinct and intuition.”
While studying acting at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in England, Carsen decided to become a director. He is always interested in all parts of staging, such as the lighting, which he has been doing himself for the last 15 years.
“The lighting is whatmakes the magic. It makes the audiences feel the atmosphere changing and sculpts the people. It’s also important in our own lives, not just on the stage. Light is emotion,” he says.
Working in theater teaches him how close he is to the past. He also believes that a director’s job is a kind of bridge between the stage and the audiences.
“You have to approach a work from the past as if they are written today. I always approach a work like it’s new because time passes but the essence of the work still excites. Most pieces have something new and I try to capture that,” he says.
Carsen also stages musicals and exhibitions, but he likes opera most because “opera mixes together all the different art forms, such as the spoken texts, choreography, design and architecture”.
Top and above: Incorporating a giant bed, gigantic pillows and green bedclothes in the setting, Benjamin Britten’s opera AMidsummerNight’sDream is considered one of the sexiest adaptations of William Shakespeare’s play.
Canadian director Robert Carsen.