Of course everyone knows music enhances the emotion of a story. Just imagine "Jaws" without that duh-na, duh-na, duh-na-duh-na-duh-na… Or Scarlett O'Hara vowing "Tomorrow is another day" without the melodramatic strains of "Tara's Theme."
But I admit, I underestimated what music could do for Shakespeare. When Felix Mendelssohn composed an overture and then incidental music for "A Midsummer Night's Dream," he got it just right.
And the magical collaboration between the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and Orlando Shakespeare Theater, a special one-night-only performance on Saturday, got it just right, too.
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The orchestra, conducted by Christopher Wilkins, let Mendelssohn's music shine as it mixed playfulness and dreaminess in artful combination. The actors, under the direction of Jim Helsinger, seemed propelled by the music, letting it lift their spirits.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream," after all, is a lark. There's nothing serious to worry about — except which silly woman will end up with which sillier man. Shakespeare fills his enchanted wood with magic, fairies, lovers, the mischievous Puck and a second-rate acting troupe whose leading man is cursed with a donkey's head.
Scenic designer Robbin Watts transformed the Bob Carr into a magical place with a lovely scrim of twisted trees that created a fairy-tale mood. With the play set in ancient Greece, simple marble columns and togas contributed to a sense of make-believe. And a troupe of singer-dancers from Florida Opera Theatre's Children's Chorus added to the childlike enchantment of the tale.
The orchestra's strings sounded delightfully playful from the get-go, and that playfulness was echoed by the brass — even in the triumphant tones of the famed "Wedding March."
The actors exuded a frisky sense of fun, too: Philip Nolen, as Bottom, gave a comically exaggerated fake death scene that would put an opera diva to shame. Heather Leonardi, as confused Hermia, sported a just-too-cute pout, while Mindy Anders, as equally confused Helena, grew more waspish. As rival swains, puffed-up and pumped-up David Hardie swaggered, while Michael Gill humorously tried to follow suit.
As king of the fairies, Patrick Sullivan proved more gentle than fierce. Sarah Ireland brought some sass to Titania the fairy queen, a role she played for the Shakes in 2011. Also reprising his role was Claro Austria, a gleeful, manic, ever-tumbling Puck who drew gasps when he vaulted onto the shoulders of Sullivan.
The text of the play was abridged, but I didn't miss anything. The plot was intact, and well-known lines — "Lord, what fools these mortals be" — were given their due. They say a picture is worth a thousand words; it's also worth sacrificing some verbiage — even Shakespeare's — for music this good.
The production was the first major collaboration between the Philharmonic and the Shakespeare Theater, and it served as the final classical concert of the Phil's 20th-anniversary season. So maybe there was a heightened energy Saturday night from the special occasions. Or maybe it was the presence of all those fairies. But the end result was magical.
Next from the Phil
• What: The Philharmonic's final pops concert of the season is the Broadway musical "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"
• When: 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, May 11
• Where: Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, 401 W. Livingston St., Orlando
• Tickets: $29-$70, with student discounts available
• Call: 407-770-0071
• Online: OrlandoPhil.org