This Oberon trades fairy wings for a suit.
In Netia Jones’ version of Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the lovers frolic in a one-tree forest and Puck hops on a trampoline beneath a shining moon.
Opening on Saturday, July 31 at the Santa Fe Opera, it’s the first time the SFO has staged this ode to Shakespeare.
Countertenor Iestyn Davies plays Oberon, the king of the fairies.
“He’s malevolent, he’s benevolent, he’s a little bit of both,” Davies said in a telephone interview.
A countertenor is a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range is equivalent to that of the female contralto or mezzo-soprano.
Britten edited the comedy classic down from its collection of lovers and “rustics” to focus on the fairy world. Oberon is semi-drunk and semi-angry as he tries to control the women around him.
Davies began singing in falsetto not long after his voice changed. He had sung with the Choir of St. John’s College at Cambridge University since the age of 8, then attended the Wells Cathedral School with its specialized music department. He went on to attend London’s Royal Academy of Music.
“The choir director was intimidating,” Davies said of his days at Wells. “There was a matter of public humiliation. I copied the sound of one of the boys next to me.”
After his voice broke, he had to let it settle.
“For some reason, I started singing falsetto,” he said. “I thought, ‘OK, I now hear the musicality.’ It was a way of standing out in the crowd again.”
Davies recently released a CD of Handel’s “Rodelinda” conducted by the SFO’s Harry Bicket. He will perform it at the Metropolitan Opera in March of 2022.
Soprano Erin Morley, who plays Tytania, grew up in a musical family in Salt Lake City. This marks her fourth time at Santa Fe.
“I feel like a regular,” she said in a telephone interview.
“I was a pianist first and I studied the violin,” she said. “I was very interested in classical music, but I didn’t discover I had a voice until high school when I was in ‘The King and I.’ ”
The story telling drew her to opera.
When she attended New York’s Eastman School of Music, she saw “Albert Herring,” a comic opera also by Britten.
“It spoke to me because it felt like musical theater,” Morley said. “I fell in love with the idea of unamplified sound. It’s an expression of what the human voice can do naturally.”
Tytania is the queen of the fairies.
“She and Oberon are in a constant power struggle over a boy,” Morley explained.
Tytania’s closest friend has died in childbirth and she wants to adopt the woman’s baby.
“Oberon can’t handle her having anything he doesn’t have, so he tries to take the boy,” Morley said.
Because the fairies control the elements, their argument triggers a cascade of disasters, including great winds, flooding and pestilence; the seasons even shift.
“Everything is off, so their argument affects everybody,” Morley said. “They’re using it to punish each other. Tytania has more power than Oberon and he resents that. He decides to play nasty tricks on her.”
Director Jones conceptualized the fairy world as shadows.
“Oberon and Tytania are the shadows of Theseus (the duke of Athens) and Hippolyta (queen of the Amazons),” Morley said. “I think it’s kind of a brilliant stroke. This is a world of a little bit of a dark side of everyone.”
After she leaves Santa Fe, Morley will travel to Bordeaux, France, where she will sing the role of Isabelle in “Robert Le Diable” by Giacomo Meyerbeer. In November, she’ll sing the title role of “Eurydice” in the Metropolitan Opera premier.
Opera patrons are required to wear masks.
Each evening’s performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will be simulcast onto two state-of-the-art LED video walls in the opera’s lower parking lots.