It's easy to understand how this production received such good reviews. The staging is as magical as the play, the opening scene in the forest where Oberon meets Tytania is a triumph of design at every level. And the brilliance of the subtle and flexible nighttime woodland stage retains interest throughout. The costumes and make-up of all the mystical woodland players are superb.
So why only four stars? Despite the faultless playing of the orchestra under Bernard Haitink, the production often clearly became a purely filmic rather than a live experience. Cast will occasionally look direct at the camera and perform to camera rather than to the imaginary audience. And then, a few minutes later, one can hear the response of the audience to events happening on stage. This resulted for me in confusion as to what exactly I was watching. The direct appeal to camera by some stars became uncomfortably bad and amusing, and I therefore thought that the DVD as a whole lacked a certain gravitas. It would have retained integrity if it had been a straightforward direct production before a Glyndbourne audience, or if it had been completely filmed without audience but in a manner that did not directly involve the viewer.
The stars of the show are, for me, Ileana Cotrubas (a feisty and tender Tytania), James Bowman (a serene but also dark Oberon), Curt Appelgren (a marvellous Bottom), and Felicity Lott (a compelling Helena). Oh, and Puck, played by a young boy Damien Nash (where is he now?) is a mischevious delight.
Overall, then, a superb production slightly marred by the manner of its appearance on DVD. But this midsummer magic nevertheless remains long in the memory.