Season Preview: Your guide to the arts in 2021

The Adelaide Festival has announced that Neil Armfield’s staging of Benjamin Britten’s operatic version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be its headline production in 2021. Not only is the Joint Artistic Director’s 2009 production a tried and tested one, a predominantly Antipodean cast neatly gets around any COVID-19 related quarantine rules which may or may not be in place come next February.

“I am thrilled finally to bring this production to Australian audiences,” said Armfield. “It is an opera of beauty and of joy and it’s very much about reconciliation and magic. We think it’s the perfect work to cheer us up and to remind us of the beauty of the world, the beauty of the imagination and the beauty of making theatre.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2009. Photograph © Felix Sanchez

The opera, which will play four performances from next February and March, will star American countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen as Oberon, King of the Fairies. Nussbaum Cohen, who is also lined up to play Rosenkranz in Armfield’s production of Brett Dean’s Hamlet when it arrives at the Metropolitan Opera next season, won a 2019 GRAMMY Award for the world premiere recording of Kenneth Fuchs’ Poems of Life conducted by JoAnn Falletta. Very much a rising star, he has committed to spending over two months in Adelaide ahead of the performances to ensure he is well and truly virus-free.

He will be joined by Australian soprano Rachelle Durkin as Oberon’s wife, the Fairy Queen Tytania, while the speaking-role of the mischievous hobgoblin Puck will be played by film and theatre actor Mark Coles Smith, a Nyikina man from North Western Australia east of Broome, and star of Last Cab to Darwin, Pawno and Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Shakespeare’s quartet of mixed-up lovers will be sung by four Australians: soprano Taryn Fiebig as Hermia, mezzo-soprano Leanne Kenneally as Helena, tenor Andrew Goodwin as Lysander, and baritone James Clayton as Demetrius. The bumbling mechanicals will be headed by Australian baritone Warwick Fyfe as Bottom the weaver, with Douglas McNicol as the long-suffering wannabe playwright Peter Quince and Triple Helpmann Award-winner Kanen Breen as Flute, the bellows mender. Jud Arthur plays Snug, the joiner, with Norbert Hohl as Snout, the tinker, and Pelham Andrews as the tailor, Starveling.

In smaller roles, New Zealand baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes will play Theseus with Fiona Campbell as his wife Hippolita. The fairies will be brought to life by a children’s chorus recruited from the ranks of the Young Adelaide Voices and directed by Christie Anderson. Musically, the production will be in the capable hands of Daniel Carter and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Carter, who has held the position of Kapellmeister at the Deutsche Oper Berlin under Donald Runnicles since August 2019, will make a welcome return to Australia.

“After months of missing out on so much extraordinary live performance, it’s a thrill to announce that this unique production will make its Australian premiere on home turf at the Adelaide Festival,” said Joint Artistic Director Rachel Healy. “It is also a privilege to bring together this largely Australian creative team and witness them recreate this production.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photograph © Dan Rest

Armfield is no stranger to Britten’s operas having previously directed acclaimed productions of Billy Budd, Peter Grimes, and the operatic ghost story, The Turn of the Screw, all for Opera Australia. His 2009 staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, originally a co-production between Houston Grand Opera, Toronto’s Canadian Opera Company and Lyric Opera of Chicago, has previously received mixed reviews, though American reviewers are inclined to be conservative in their tastes.

While interstate travel is widely expected to have returned to some degree by 2021, South Australian regional audiences in Mount Gambier, Port Pirie, Renmark and Whyalla will have the opportunity to catch A Midsummer Night’s Dream via streaming services, and up to 3,000 will be able to see it at Elder Park where it will appear on the big screen with tickets going for as little as $29.

“Not only is it brilliant to be talking about arts festivals opening up again, but to have a production that provides an opportunity for the local artists to perform alongside some of the world’s best opera singers is truly exciting,” said South Australia’s Premier Steven Marshall. “I am also pleased that regional South Australian audiences will be given the opportunity to see this masterpiece, with performances being live streamed to four regional centres.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream will play at the Adelaide Festival Theatre from Friday 26 February until Wednesday 3 March. The full 2021 Adelaide Festival will be announced on Thursday 19 November

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