(NOTE. This Paris Opera production of Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love stacked innumerable bales of hay onto the Covent Garden stage, an over-the-top way of placing the scene in a country setting where superb singers could engage in capturing a rollicking comic opera appreciated by audiences ever since its 1832 debut. The newly formed Haymarket Theatre Company braved the odds with great success, mounting a spot-on production of William Wycherley’s seldom-performed The Country Wife before an audience ready for an entire evening’s worth of double-entendre language and action. Euripides’ uncompromising tragedy Women of Troy is given an updated rendering, on the nearly bare stage of the Lyttelton Theatre, of this achingly pathetic portrayal of the catastrophic aftermath of the Trojan War. Borrowing from a memorable Shakespearean song for his title, Noel Coward aims this expertly written comedy, Present Laughter, toward a persistent view of the truths that emerge from behind the superficial and pretentious, while still endorsing the romantic inclinations that endear his characters to one another.
A production of Max Frisch’s The Arsonists, at the Royal Court’s main theatre, has a genuine appeal for audiences that favor political allegory. It is performed in repertory with a much better play, Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, whose absurdist premise identifies more important realities in what amounts to a parable for our times. Two operas by Benjamin Britten add lustre and depth to the season. His masterful Turn of the Screw, based on a novella by Henry James, is presented in all its mysterious depth in a production by the Mariinsky Theatre of St Petersburg, performed by English National Opera singers at the Coliseum. An earlier opera, Albert Herring, which followed Britten’s remarkable debut opera Peter Grimes, now in a revival at Sadler’s Wells of the original Glyndebourne production faultlessly directed by Peter Hall, embraces qualities both comic and serious. A somewhat uneven work, it could perhaps benefit from judicious cutting, and yet Albert Herring retains the composer’s signature use of serial music to capture in full the idiosyncratic breadth and variety of the human voice.
Broadcasting of National Theatre and other London productions to the wider world via HD live transmission has introduced a new era for theatregoing, as in this offering at the Amherst (Massachusetts) Cinema of the Olivier production of All’s Well That Ends Well, whose director, Marianne Elliott, has imposed a sort of fairy-tale atmosphere on the proceedings. Perhaps her aim is to soften Shakespeare’s rendering of a set of rather low-life characters, including the flawed hero Bertram himself, who appear unworthy of the redemption called for by the comic premise and brought about by the long- suffering Helena.
A production of another, much happier Shakespearean comedy, Love’s Labour’s Lost, also on tour, not electronically but in a directly physical way, brings the Globe Theatre company to the small city of Holyoke, in western Massachusetts, in connection with the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts. Emulating the dramatist’s inspired writing for a bare stage and an overhead balcony, the company, comprised of first-rate actors and musicians, mounts a perfectly paced, articulate reading of a bright, witty comedy that ends on a sudden, unusually sobering note.)