Filtering the Bard through Benjamin Britten provides us with one of the most magical operas in the modern repertoire, and Opera North rises triumphantly to the challenge of creating a fairyland that sets the world just off kilter, revealing the irrational while remaining warm and humorous.
The chorus of child fairies, disconcertingly dressed in gym-kit and wearing Midwich Cuckoo blonde wigs, set the light, high tone for an atmospheric universe of sound that slides us effortlessly into their heightened reality, as hippy-chic mis-matched lovers stray into the woods and out of control.
The musical sense of something otherworldly was reflected by a simple set of translucent corrugated panels through which Titania and Oberon glide in dazzling metallic robes, mirrors of a rather chilly fairy power contrasted with the rumbustious energy of Puck, the non-singing but impressively physical role played by Daniel Abelson in earthy, guttural style.
His animal glee cuts through everyone else’s machinations and ego-trips, hitting a resounding note of irrepressible mischief.
The rude mechanicals – workmen attempting to put on a proper drama – are a special joy as Britten characterises each one to create a troupe of entirely recognisable comic individuals.
Darren Jeffery’s Bottom was big, resonant and impressive, not just in his desperate attempt to play every role in their drama but also as the enchanted lover of Titania, who really is swept off her feet.
The ludicrously silly play-within-a-play of Pyramus and Thisbe was directed as a set-piece where props and gestures emphasised the sheer comic joy of the event.
Nicholas Sharratt as Flute, persuaded to play a tragic heroine complete with high-heels and gold frock, was the cherry on the cake of the final act, rising inexorably to his role and reminding us of that power of transformation which lies at the heart of the opera.