Britten’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” a highlight of Miami Beach Classical Music Festival

By Lawrence Budmen

Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was performed at the Miami Beach Classical Music Festival.

When one considers the operas of Benjamin Britten, the tortured anti-heroes of Peter Grimes and Billy Budd come to mind. Wit is not usually associated with this distinctively British composer but that was also part of his creative instincts. Britten’s comic opera Albert Herring is a minor masterpiece of comedic social satire and his adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’ Dream mixes whimsey and fantasy to enticingly magical effect. 

The Miami Beach Classical Music Festival’s production of this 1960 opera managed to conjure up the multiple worlds of a fairy kingdom, mortal quarreling lovers, bumpkin vaudevillians and a royal court in perfect proportion. A video of last week’s performance (July 22) at the Faena Forum displays a well-prepared, musically scrupulous traversal by a talented young cast and imaginative production team.

The opera’s libretto by Britten and his partner and musical muse Peter Pears succinctly distills the essence of Shakespeare’s contrasting scenes into three concise acts. Four distinct sound worlds permeate Britten’s score. Tints of impressionism picture Oberon and Tytania in their realm, modernist romanticism encompasses the lovers, ceremonial pomp for the ducal palace and neo-classicism combined with raucous British folk influences convey the amateur players’ enthusiasm and ineptitude. Conductor Aaron Breid balanced these diverse styles astutely, drawing razor-sharp articulation and vibrant tonal hues from the young orchestra.

The role of Oberon was conceived for the first star countertenor, Alfred Deller. Salvador Lopez Portillo brought a magnetic presence and a burnished sweetness of tone that conveyed the ethereal otherworldliness of the ruler. Accompanied by the tinkling celesta, he owned the stage, dominating every scene. 

Confirming the strong impression she made as La Fèe in last summer’s production of Massenet’s Cendrillon, Zoè Spangler commanded Tytania’s scenes with queenly majesty, producing acrobatic coloratura leaps and subtle pianissimos in equally ravishing fashion.  In the spoken role of Puck, Mac Atkinson leapt about the stage with Terpsichorean agility, and exceptionally clear diction. Heather Morrison, Faith Kopecky, Jenna Weitman  and Honghee Jo were a beguiling quartet of fairies.

Robert Kopf was terrific as the title protagonist in the festival’s 2021 production of Albert Herring and, as Lysander, he again proved an outstanding singing actor. Kopf’s light, subtly nuanced tenor soared in moments of romantic fervor and brought out the anger and agitation of enmity with Demetrius. Julianna Smith’s opulent, richly colored mezzo conveyed Hermia’s mood swings. Kopf and Smith’s perfectly blended timbres made the evening prayer a highlight of the show. 

Jose Vasquez voiced Demetrius’ volatile outbursts in robust vocal style. Although Helena says she looks like a bear, Lauren Stokke’s stunning beauty lit up the stage and her soprano range proved agile at the highest and lowest extremes.

Among the comedic players, the role of the weaver Bottom was written for a deep bass. Gabriel Menendez is more of a light baritone but his musicality, accuracy and attention to detail carried the day. Britten set the scene of Bottom, turned into a donkey by Puck, and Tytania’s romance in wryly neo-Baroque passages and Menendez brought out the faux ardor engagingly. He was both hilarious and musically incisive in the bel canto parody presented by the would be thespians. 

As the play’s pompous director Peter Quince, Wei Chen’s business suit and tie and commanding bass baritone radiated authority, however misplaced among the amateurs. Jacob Rivera, Will Schlott, Elijah Brown and Brandon Flores were a lively group of well-matched comics.

Benjamin Elliott’s vibrant baritone made Duke Theseus’ every utterance count and Adja Tomas looked every inch the Queen of the Amazons as Hippolyta. One would like to hear more of her sizable, voluminous soprano in a more prominent role. The chorus of fairies blended delightfully, particularly in “Ye spotted snakes.”

Director Marc Callahan’s fast-moving production traversed the magical and real world in gleaming tableaux, enhanced by Josieu Jean and Kacey Koploff’s projections of ferrets, stars and crowns. Julia La Vault’s lighting pictured the play’s differing spheres. Maura Gergerich’s vividly spare sets and Paulina Lozano’ multi colored costumes captured the shifting globes of Shakespeare’ vision.

The Miami Beach Classical Music Festival’s production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream can be viewed at

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Sun Jul 31, 2022
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