Starting a theatre company is no easy feat, but for a theatre to be around for 50 years is something worth celebrating. You can celebrate 50 years with Des Moines Metro Opera this summer, which just opened up its 50th season with two spectacular productions. The season opened up a sold-out run of The Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” with Simon Estes in his farewell performance. I’ve heard excellent things about the production. The opera continued its opening weekend with “The Voice” finalist John Holiday in Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” based on the Shakespeare play by the same name.
The show tells the story of Oberon, who decides to play a trick on Tytania. He has his servant Puck pull a special flower that Cupid’s arrow has touched. When Oberon comes across Helena, he decides to have Puck use the flower on Helena. Puck confuses Hermia for Helena and uses the flower on her, causing Helena to want the same man as Helena. This leads to further confusion when Puck uses his magic on Nick Bottom, one of the men in Peter Quice’s traveling troop. The mixups and mayhem that follow through the rest of the show will delight the audiences at Des Moines Metro Opera.
One of the great parts of this production was walking into the theatre and being immersed in the beautiful set by Jacob A Climer, who also designed costumes for the show. One thing I appreciated about his costumes was that each group within the show had very distinctive costumes. The fairies had whimsical white costumes. Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius, and Helena all looked as though they were dressed in their school colors, and then Peter Quince and his crew were all dressed in red and white. I only wish there had been some element to tie each of these groups together in the costuming. One of my favorite moments is when Climer’s sets, and the gorgeous lighting from Connie Yun, come together to start and close each act. The best way to describe it is that it awakens the stage to start each act and puts it back to sleep at the end.
Under the direction of conductor Elizabeth Askren, the orchestra beautifully plays the music of Britten and lulls the audience into a dreamlike state from the beginning of the show. They accompany the beautiful countertenor voice of John Holiday as Oberon and the gorgeous soprano voice of Sydney Mancasola. Both are making their grand return to Des Moines Metro Opera. Completing their trio in the spoken role of Puck is Liam Beck-O’Sullivan.
The fantastic performances continue with Isaiah Bell, Alexander Birch Elliott, Tamara Gura, and Susanne Burgess as the lovers Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius, and Helena. Each of them does a fantastic job of bringing these youthful lovers to the stage. They were able to play these characters in a way that felt as though they could have been pulled out of a classic ’80s teenage movie. I thoroughly enjoyed watching their scenes and thought they captured the essence of the ups and downs of young love.
It wouldn’t be a performance of “A Midsummer Night’s dream without a performance by Peter Quince’s touring troop of actors. DMMO has assembled a terrific group of actors to bring this troop to the stage. They all had an everyman feel, which played well throughout the show. One of my favorite moments of theirs was when they first saw Barnaby Rea’s, Nick Bottom, first appear as an ass. The fear in their eyes played up the humor of the scene.
Des Moines Metro Opera is kicking off its 50th season with a classic production that feels both timeless and modern. From the amazing sets, to the beautiful costumes and lighting, to the fantastic directing and acting, each aspect comes together to make for a fun and relaxing night of theatre. If you want tickets to this show, or “Porgy and Bess,” you will need to sign up on a waiting list as most performances are sold out. If you are interested in seeing a production this summer, some seats are still available for the world premiere of “A Thousand Acres” and the Iowa premiere of “American Apollo.” To purchase tickets or to get on the waiting list, visit https://desmoinesmetroopera.org/