Straight out of a 'dream'
By Adam Sedia
The next production of the IU Opera Theatre will involve a rare collaboration between the opera and ballet departments - odd bedfellows, for the two departments hardly ever collaborate in productions.\nBenjamin Britten's operatic rendition of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," opening at 8 p.m. Friday at the Musical Aarts Center, is one of this season's operas in English that is actually a part of the English operatic tradition, rather than a translation from Italian, French or German.\nThe opera -- written in English in the composer's adaptation of Shakespeare's play -- first premiered at Aldeburgh in Suffolk, England in July 1960.\nIU professor David Effron, who will be conducting the opera's performances, spoke about where "A Midsummer Night's Dream" fits into English opera.\n"Britten is important in the history of English opera and of opera in general," Effron said. "Britten is English opera in the 20th century. All of his operas are very important."\nEffron said Britten's operas are not typical of the genre because they have a very unique style and display very strong characterization\nInstrumentation, Effron said, is part of what makes the opera's music unique.\n"There are some unusual instrument combinations," he said. "For example, there's a harpsichord combined with percussion and celesta."\nDespite a small orchestra, Effron said Britten's score puts it to good use.\n"The combinations (of instruments) Britten uses make the orchestra sound much larger than it is," Effron said. "There are only 10 woodwinds, but the combinations make it sound like much more."\nHarmony is another musical element that makes Britten's opera unique.\n"Britten uses a mixture of conventional harmonies and also some more unusual, modern ones," Effron said.\nFinally, Britten uses unconventional structural elements in the composition of his opera, especially in its use of arias, or solo parts that can stand alone as individual songs.\n"('A Midsummer Night's Dream') has very few arias, and they have a different format than usual," Effron said. "In most arias, the characters state their feelings. Here, they forward the drama."\nThe arias also fit into the opera in an atypical way.\n"It's also hard to point out the arias -- they're buried in the score," Effron said. "In most operas, the aria stands alone from the rest of the action."\nOn a local level, this production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" stands out because it incorporates ballet, allowing a one-of-a-kind collaboration between the opera and ballet departments.\nSenior Christopher Nachtrab, who plays the ballet role of Puck, spoke about his rare perspective as a solo dancer in an opera.\n"This is my first time as Puck," Nachtrab said. "I'm familiar with the character, though it's a much bigger role in Shakespeare's play."\nThe approach guest director Colin Graham wanted to take with Nachtrab was different from his previous ballet experience.\n"I was allowed to make my own interpretation with the given steps," he said. "Normally I just interpret the movements given by the choreographer. Here I have free will within the given direction."\nAnother difference Nachtrab observed between ballet and opera performance is the relationship the dancers have with the conductor.\n"The relationship with the conductor is much more distant than in ballet," he said. "In ballet, the conductor will watch the dancers and adjust to meet our movements. I have to follow the conductor much more here."\nAside from adjustments, Nachtrab said the music itself is challenging.\n"It's difficult -- more difficult than ballet," he said. "It's hard music to count to."\nDespite his role's challenges, Nachtrab said he is glad to be part of a very rare IU experience.\n"This has been the first time I've been here where the ballet and opera departments interact. Normally they're miles apart," he said. "I'm making a big stand in the school of music (by doing this). It's a great experience"