Opera is the most dramatic of art forms. It has also proven to be one of the most flexible substrata for directors upon which to embark on flights of fancy and create visual backdrops of a most inventive and eye-catching nature.
That is certainly the case with the upcoming production of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with director Ido Ricklin drawing on the Golden Era of Hollywood for the esthetics and zeitgeist foundation of the Israeli Opera run, which takes in 10 shows between January 4 and January 17 in Tel Aviv. The personnel for the venture includes conductors Daniel Cohen and Ethan Schmeisser, with Alexander Lisyanski and Oren Dar responsible for set and costume design, respectively. Yoram Karmi is the choreographer, Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi) has the light design under control, and Nimrod Zin is in charge of video design.
The stellar singing cast includes countertenors Yaniv D’Or and Alon Harari as Oberon, and soprano Hila Baggio in the role of Tytania, with British mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley and Israeli counterpart Anat Czarny alternating as Hermia.
Preview of The Israeli Opera's A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Benjamin Britten (YouTube/IsraeliOpera)
The 51-year-old Ricklin has paid his dues over the years, putting in his professional pennyworth across a range of works, overseeing theatrical productions at Habima, the Beersheba Theater, Beit Lessin and Heidelberg Theatre in Germany. He is no stranger to the Opera House in Tel Aviv either, having directed Haim Permont’s The Lady and the Peddler
in 2015, based on a short story by S.Y. Agnon. In the same year, Ricklin worked on Schitz to a libretto based on the Hanoch Levin play.
Even with that impressive directorial background, Ricklin says he has had to rise to a daunting challenge with the Britten work.
“It’s very complex,” he notes, ”and it was 18 months in the making.”
The gestation period was something of a rocky ride and also got off to a somewhat stuttering start.
“I approached [then Israeli Opera general director] Hannah Munitz with the idea of doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream
,” Ricklin explains. “At the time, I had a completely different idea for the production, but Hannah pointed out that there were several problems with my suggestion. She was right, and I told her I’d come back with a new concept within two weeks.”
Ricklin didn’t experience the desired flash of inspiration and was about to notify Munitz that he would have to reluctantly drop the project, when he recalled a previous conceptual impasse.
“I remembered when I was stuck, many years ago, with another project, when [Beit Zvi acting school director general] Gary Bilu told me that if I really wanted to do the production, I must have some old idea in mind, which I could draw on,” he recounts.
Ricklin set his gray matter to work on that production and duly solved the problem and followed suit with the current project.
“I got into my car, sat in a traffic jam and pondered why Britten gave the role of Oberon, king of the fairies, to a countertenor rather than following the theater casting approach which went to a sort of bass character. Britten meant something by that. Then I realized that this was a diva-diva situation,” he says.
Ricklin was treading on familiar ground here.
“I am a theater director, and I know what a diva is. A diva is really something that comes from the industry of dreams, that means Hollywood, midsummer night’s dreams. I went back to Hannah and told her I was going for a Hollywood concept, and she said, ‘You’ve solved the problem.’” It was all systems go.
“As soon as I had the concept, things began to move in the desired direction,” Ricklin continues.
Pairing opera and Hollywood would seem to naturally lead into the realms of glitter and an extravaganza directorial approach. Ricklin says he could have gone that route but that he wasn’t looking to present a straight-ahead Tinseltown look and feel.
“Yes, that idea does invite a big production concept, but we are not presenting Hollywood here but rather an imagined Hollywood, a Hollywood-based fantasy. At the end of the day, Hollywood fantasy is about how magic is being made.
It is about how movies are made,” he says. It was this oxymoronic synergy which, for Ricklin, is the crux of the whole Hollywood dream machine. He got that sense from a photograph of early Hollywood star Miriam Hopkins.
“You see a gorgeous woman, made up and dressed to the nines, surrounded by men with cameras pointed at her. But there is no glamour there. The glamour is only in the way she is dressed. There is so much interest focused on this woman. The chasm between the so-called glamour and the way magic is made, which is very laborious and industrious. There is no magic in the making magic,” he states.
That, says the director, is what provides the added spark that underlies the upcoming English language production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“It is the magical frame and the non-magical surroundings, so to speak. The audience will get a lot of magic,” he asserts.
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ will be performed on January 4 to 17 at the Opera House in Tel Aviv. For tickets and more information: (03) 692-7777 and www.israel-opera.co.i