Photo: Ben Schill Photography
Photo: Ben Schill Photography

A Midsummer Night’s Dream Gets Opera Treatment

How do you make a writer like William Shakespeare even more dramatic? You turn his work into an opera. Full of comedy, romance and fantasy, the Virginia Opera’s performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream allows audiences to experience Shakespeare’s classic play of the same name through a new lens.

The well-known story about a fantasy world in which a fairy king and queen have a dispute that breaches the human world, causing chaos to ensue, was adapted for the opera in the 1960s by Benjamin Britten. Though Britten’s version is almost word for word the original Shakespeare play, this opera production has cut certain sections to fit a musical style and keep it from running too long.

Building on Britten’s work, the Virginia Opera’s production – at George Mason University Center for the Arts this weekend – will have English supertitles so audiences can better follow along. The performance is broken into three categories, which Virginia Opera’s Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor Adam Turner calls sound worlds: the fairy world, the human world, and the rustics or mechanicals.

“Each of them has their own individual sound, and you hear [the characters’] inner thoughts,” Turner says. “You hear the psychological motivations or underpinning emotions that they maybe can’t express with text. That all comes out in the music.”

This is the first time in the Virginia Opera’s 43-year history that the company has performed Britten’s opera. Turner says part of his decision in picking this production was to find something new and exciting to offer audiences.

Beyond that, the Virginia Opera wants to expand its audience to younger generations and “take operas outside the opera house,” adding that when he comes across younger people, he urges them to give opera a try.

“There’s really nothing like the live, acoustic version that you experience in a theater.”

Not to mention, he says, if younger generations don’t become invested in opera, then it may not last.

“I think people take for granted that it’s always going to be there, but it’s something too important to our culture – to our hearts and minds – to let go.”

The Virginia Opera has worked to reach younger audiences by rebranding themselves and making opera more accessible, a job Turner has taken the reigns on. These changes include an updated website, an enhanced social media presence and affordable ticket prices.

The company also has a statewide education and outreach tour that introduces opera music to kids all over Virginia, one of the biggest opera education programs in the country, and an emerging artist program that looks for new talent to nurture.

Turner hopes the Virginia Opera will stay healthy and thrive while introducing younger generations to opera, thus erasing any preconceived notions they may have.

“I think once you’re in the opera house, you see that not everyone is dressed in a tux or a fabulous gown. People of all shapes, sizes [and] creeds come together to hear this incredible music live and in person.”

See A Midsummer Night’s Dream at George Mason University Center for the Arts on Saturday, February 17 at 8 p.m. or Sunday, February 18 at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $54.

George Mason University Center for the Arts: 4400 University Dr. Fairfax, VA; 703-993-8888; cfa.gmu.edu

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Natalia Kolenko

Natalia is a George Mason University alum who studied Journalism and Environmental Science and Politics. She combines her background in news reporting with her love for music, art, and culture to write pieces on a variety of topics. Addicted to travel, X-files, and concerts.