a, Arts & Entertainment, Theatre

Opera McGill opts for relocation in Shakespeare adaptation

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s oft performed comedy of love, magic, and misunderstanding, was written more than 400 years ago and adapted by English composer Benjamin Britten in the 1960’s as an opera, which will be the format by which Opera McGill performs the story in their upcoming main stage production.

When taking on such a well-known classic it is always a challenge to make it feel fresh and original, but Caitlin Hammon—masters student, soprano, and portrayer of Helena in Opera McGill’s show—feels confident that their version will live up to that challenge, especially thanks to director Patrick Hanson’s bold decision to relocate Britten’s Shakespearian opera to pre-First World War India.

“There’s a few mentions of India that the fairy Tytania makes in the original play,” explains Hammon. “So [Hanson] kind of took that and ran with it [….] The fairies are all Indian deities, and the lovers are like British colonial royalty.”

Although the Athenian forest of Shakespeare’s script is replaced by an Eastern locale, Hammon believes that the production will retain its original magical feel.

“There are some absolutely beautiful moments, especially with the fairies,” she says. “It’s set to be  very ethereal and heavenly, and it’s really nice.”

Hammon is also particularly excited about the visual aspects of the production. All inspired by the Indian theme, the sets and costumes promise to dazzle the eye. The elaborate two-storey set is currently under construction, and it will include, among other wonders, a forest that lights up and a giant tree that the characters will be climbing during their performance.

The orchestra will be formed by musicians from the Schulich School of Music.

“We have the McGill Symphony Orchestra playing and they’re really doing a remarkable job. It’s really one of the best student orchestras we’ve had in a while,” says Hammon.

Not to be forgotten is the talented ensemble of voices that the opera format promises. Now in its 58th year of operation, Opera McGill is a prolific institution that is currently in the midst of an all-Shakespeare season. It staged an adaptation of Julius Caesar earlier this year, and is preparing a Romeo and Juliet adaptation for March.

When describing the sound and style of the upcoming production, Hammon is adamant that A Midsummer Night’s Dream will feel much more modern than what someone would typically envision.

“It’s not what you’re used to hearing if you flip on the radio and hear some guy singing opera in a strange language,” she assures me. “When a lot of people think of opera they’re thinking about things written in the 1800’s, but this is what we would consider contemporary.”

Anyone who may be hesitant or intimated about venturing out for a night at the opera should also know that this production is in English, and that there are projections above the stage with subtitles in both English and French to make sure that audience members can follow.  As Hammon explains, this won’t be a traditional opera.

“I’ve sat through rehearsals and rehearsals and rehearsals already and I’ve been entertained the entire time that I’ve been watching it,” she says. “If someone has never been to an opera before, I would really recommend this one to them because it’s very accessible, lighthearted, and fun.”


A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be performed at 7:30 p.m. from Jan. 29—Feb. 1 in Pollack Hall. Student tickets are $25.

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