There are conductors who, for some reason, get that most disheartening slur branded on their baton -- "workingman conductor". Or, as they like to say here, "routinier". Appropriately, the slur ends up being attached to the undeserving names of perfectly fine conductors. Because the same people who like to badmouth a masterpiece of elegance, grace and subtlety like L'Elisir d'Amore (everything they told you about L'Elisir -- or Don Pasquale for that matter -- is wrong, but this is the topic of a future post) like to slam perfectly fine, if definitely non-flashy, maestri.
Andrew Davis is one of those conductors -- more often than not your usual alleged connoisseur of opera who doesn't really get it will roll his (generally beady) eyes sighing some sort of dismissive remark about Sir Andrew. Who in fact, as he so often demonstrates whenever he steps on the podium, and as he showed last night at la Scala conducting A Midsummer Night 'sDream -- is a very gifted conductor. He has the gift of music -- he engages the listener. He's wary of the corny effects, understands deeply his scores, and some composers -- Britten, for example -- he simply gets it.
All due respect to a mostly excellent cast, last night's success is in large part Davis's work.
Anyway: as the curtain dropped on last night's Teatro alla Scala premiere of Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, it was obvious, even before the numerous curtain calls and tonsil-busting "bravi", that the night had been a rousing success for all involved (even Robert Carsen himself, the director, showed up, and this is a vintage production, like from the Bush years -- Bush the Father years). When the cast and chorus eventually disappeared backstage for good and all the applause in the audience stopped, a riotous, congratulatory roar exploded from backstage and echoed around the theater -- a little backstage impromptu party, the singers in their hidden, not-so-private victory lap.
Carsen's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream was seen for the first time at Scala last night, though it's ages old, already shown from Aix-en-Provence to Barcelona's Liceu spanning over two decades, and was released on DVD a few years ago (you can get the DVD here)
The libretto (written by Britten and bff Peter Pears) is indeed packed with love and lust. Carsen's production -- he's possibly our second-favorite living Canadian, after Alice Munro -- goes unexpectedly sexual without discretion. Throughout the course of the opera, we witness an explosive orgasm (Tytania from Bottom's prosthetic), a cat fight (between Helena and Hermia), and let's be frank...what more can be said about an opera that mentions the word "cock" or "love juice" in some form or another half-a-dozen times? Opera Chic wouldn't have been surprised to hear some "bukkake" interpolation in the libretto.
But then, Carsen somehow kept a detached, straightforward interpretation of the overt erotic themes (Opera Chic still recalls the hotness from his Semele and Traviata orgies and his Salome striptease -- he's a director who likes his gangbangs, and more power to him for that). And yes we'd be remiss to not mention Matthew Rose's 20" strap-on that would make Dirk Diggler blush [link NSFW], though you'll have to keep reading to hear about that!