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.

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at chen­nan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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”.

PHO­TOS BY JIANG DONG / CHINA DAILY

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.

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