Oberon, king of the fairies, has been challenged by his queen Titania to write a play to rival Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream without resorting to magic. But Oberon, though beautiful, falls far short of the queen’s request.
Director and writer Nick Olcott’s Oberon has a long pedigree. The heart of the story comes from the 13th-century French epic hero Huon of Bordeaux, who unwittingly killed Emperor Charlemagne’s son and, in penance, had to best the Amir of Babylon with help from Oberon. That story was translated into a German epic poem, before composer Carl Maria von Weber and librettist James Robinson Planche used it for their opera Oberon, or The Elf King’s Oath.
For this adaptation, Olcott throws out much of Planche’s work, and with it much of what made Huon’s story epic. Charlemagne and the Amir are out. So is Babylon and even Bordeaux. Olcott’s Oberon fingerpaints a rudimentary story of a knight, a damsel-in-distress, two sidekicks, and virtually no conflict.
Even then, Oberon repeatedly uses magic to hold together this basic story, obviously violating the weak raison d’être that Olcott replaced the old plot with. Fortunately, Weber’s music remains and goes a long way to justify the show.
Across the board, the cast gives spirited and talented performances. Cara Gonzalez stands out as Huon’s love interest, Princess Rezia. Her voice gives depth to a flat character, as beautiful and sorrowful as any damsel-in-distress.
Alex Alburqueque and Anamer Castrello as the two lover’s sidekicks are as amusing as they are impressive. They especially shine in their Act II duet, bringing a glimmer of joy and fun to the show.
closes June 18, 2017
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Despite the clumsy framing device, Aurelio Domínguez and Katherine Fili have a charming chemistry as Oberon and Puck, hamming up the groan-worthy Shakespeare references.
Music director and conductor Stanley Thurston’s ensemble and instrumental ensemble are a strong backbone throughout. Donna Bresslin’s costume design gives the fairies a great variety. The show rarely feels as alive as when these strange creatures get to slip in stage business, suggesting greater depth than just being Oberon’s puppets.
Jonathan Dahm Robertson’s set design is a microcosm of what makes the show worth watching. Huon’s play-within-a-play plays out mostly on a smaller stage upon the stage, tucked in the back. Before that is room from Oberon and Puck to watch the show. And in front of them is the orchestra, not in a pit, but on the same level as the front row. There, Thurston and his instrumental ensemble get our full attention when the story way up-stage is weakest.
In the end, fans of opera will delight in the fine music that Weber, Thurston, and the cast have created together. What is lacking on the page is made up for rather well on the stage.
Oberon. Composed by Carl Maria von Weber. Written and directed by Nick Olcott. Music direction and conducted by Stanley Thurston. Performed by Aurelio Domínguez, Katherine Fili, Cara Gonzalez, Sammy Huh, Alex Alburqueque, Anamer Castrello, Emily Casey, Laynee Dell Woodward, Teresa Ferrera, Patricia Portillo, Louisa Waycott, Nicholas Carratura, Cornelius David, Elliot Matheny, and Simon Charette. Lighting design by Marianne Meadows. Set design by Jonathan Dahm Robertson. Costume design by Donna Bresslin. Choreography by Chelsea Brown. Fight choreography by Erin MacDonald. Stage managed by Cindy King. Produced by the In Series. Reviewed by Marshall Bradshaw.